Bridging art and sea
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Apr 07, 2017
Professional dancer Courtney Celeste Spears has performed during an independence celebration, and last year she performed with her dance company Ailey II in The Bahamas, and now she’s looking to continue to bring a high level of the art to the country through ArtSea, a weekend-long convention dedicated to helping aspiring young dancers cultivate their talent and recognize the potential in pursuing a professional dance career.
Through ArtSea, Spears strives to be the bridge that connects artists of The Bahamas and the Caribbean to the vast dance world — whether it’s dancing in college to obtain a degree, or dancing professionally. She says ArtSea is an outlet for young, talented artists to learn and grow within their craft.
“ArtSea is something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s always been a passion of mine, and now it’s coming to fruition,” said Spears, ArtSea’s founder.
“A couple of years ago I was able to perform at the independence celebration, and there were these kids there … I performed, then they performed their dance, and their teacher came up to me and said they just kept looking at me and that they were mesmerized and if I would mind helping them because they were a little nervous and scared.”
Spears pulled the children to the side and worked with them.
“These kids were barefoot in the grass doing all these turns and jumps and leaps barefoot in the grass, and I’m like oh my goodness. Their bodies were just so naturally capable. They were so talented, and I was just mesmerized by them because they just loved dance so much. I think I may have been one of the first professionals that they had ever seen in that way, and I was like these kids need more. They should be able to see all that’s out there for dance. And then we came home for Ailey II last September and we taught here, and to see all of these children just so mesmerized by young professionals … it was almost like they had never seen anybody like us before, and they were just so amazed to see dancers and young people who love dance, and dancers of color doing these great things, and so many of them came up to myself and the other dancers and asked us questions at the workshop. A lot of them were like, ‘Are you going to come back and teach more?’ And I felt so compelled and called to not bring anything new to Nassau, but to just heighten what’s already here, and give them the exposure … this vision of what they can be doing with their craft, with what they love to do.”
What was an idea morphed into ArtSea.
The program’s objective is to provide students with the tools to build their self-confidence, and give them applicable knowledge in pursuing a professional dance career.
The young artists will participate in four genres of dance — ballet, jazz, contemporary and hip hop. Working with Spears will be dancers Gabriel Hyman (modern); Larissa Gerszke (ballet); Courtney Ross (hip hop); and Shannen O’Neil (jazz).
Renee Robinson, former principal dancer at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who Spears describes as an icon and one of her idols, will also participate in the workshop.
A body and wellness workshop with Sheyi Ojeifitimi, the senior physical therapist at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, responsible for providing onsite and tour physical therapy services to the dancers and staff, is also on the agenda. Spears said body wellness is important to dancers.
“As dancers, we use our bodies so strenuously, and a lot of the dancing industry is knowing how to take care of your body, and being able to care for your body on your own,” she said.
A dancing in college seminar is also on the agenda and will be conducted by college consultant Tracy Miller.
“I got a full scholarship for college through dance,” said Spears. “And a lot of them and their parents didn’t even know that is an option.”
She said the quality faculty that she has been able to put together to come to New Providence for ArtSea is an honor.
A final performance showcase will allow the artists to display what they learned.
By participating in the ArtSea workshop events, Spears said students will learn dance classroom etiquette, technical dance skills, teamwork, communication skills, body awareness and injury-prevention and how to process dance college applications.
ArtSea will be held June 24-25 at the British Colonial Hilton for dancers aged eight to 23.
Spears gives credit for ArtSea becoming a reality to National Dance Company Bahamas Director Robert Bain; her grandmother Andrea Sweeting, president of Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group; as well as her brother Asa Carey, who serves in the executive director’s role.
“I wouldn’t have been able to bring this brainchild to life without their help,” she said.
Spears said ArtSea is her way of reaching young people. She said dance is the “beautiful vessel” she has been provided to be able to give back.
“I feel that this is what God has called me to do. We have to always remember that the young generation is the future of The Bahamas, and the world, and I feel that my vessel through which to give back and share is through dance. And Nassau is home for me. I feel so alive when I’m there. My family is there. My culture, my roots are there, so I’ve always felt extra passionate about trying to bring back all that I’ve learned and all that I know from being in the States to the place that I call home.”
Spears, a Baltimore, Maryland native, has strong Bahamian roots. She is the daughter of the former D’Andrea Sweeting-Cary.
While ArtSea begins in New Providence, Spears envisions it as a touring dance convention/workshop that will travel around the Caribbean. In a year she said would like to have ArtSea Bahamas in addition to ArtSea programs in other Caribbean islands.
“I see it as a traveling entity that brings art to local children who deserve the same opportunities as the kids in the United States where it’s so abundant to them. I’ve grown very aware that I’m only where I am today because I had people who told me where I could be going. Somebody presented — you can dance in college, you can dance for this company, here is how you make it, here is how you do this, and I’ve grown very aware of that. And I’m no different from any child in Nassau who loves to dance. The only difference was I had somebody there to tell me about it and I want to be able to bring that to as many kids as possible.”
When ArtSea takes place, Spears’s two-year run with Ailey II, one of the most popular modern dance companies, will have come to an end and she will commence the next chapter in her dance career — auditioning for other companies.
“It was a great run. I learned so much, I saw so much. The fact that we got to come to Nassau was mind-blowing to me. I never imagined something like that happening. And Mr. Bain was really the reason we were there and he hugged me so tight, and said we started something here,” said Spears.
It made her realize she had to keep the momentum going.
“I always for some reason thought that I would have to do one after the other, but I think there’s a beautiful balance for myself in doing ArtSea at the same time — growing, and, at the same time, taking all of that knowledge and just giving it back. The more I grow, the more I can give back.”
She also considers Bain and all the other dance studio instructors to be local heroes, as she says New Providence wouldn’t have a dance community were it not for them.
“I’m excited about it,” said Spears of ArtSea. “I can’t wait. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I started teaching.”
Spears said she welcomes any sponsors, no matter how big or small, to assist in the successful staging of her first ArtSea workshop.
Early registration for ArtSea is through June 4 at $100 per registrant and includes all the activities for the weekend. Late registration closes on June 9 at the increased rate of $150. To register online visit www.artseadance.org; email firstname.lastname@example.org.