Shaneaka Gibbs: For the Love of Dance Part 2 

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada 

  • Attained Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Performance and Choreography with Honours from Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in November 2019
  • Received six awards for academic achievement given to students attaining GPAs over 3.3

Many of our readers would remember an article published by NOW Grenada on 15 October 2018 entitled “For the love of dance” highlighting the achievement of one of Grenada’s daughters of the soil Shaneaka Gibbs, whose life goal was to pursue a doctorate degree in dance sciences and cultural studies.

In 2018, the dancer from Syracuse, St David, became the first Grenadian and only Caribbean national to audition successfully for the Professional Division Summer Intense Programme at the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance School in the USA.

One year later, Gibbs is closer to her dreams after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Performance and Choreography with Honours from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) in November 2019. She was awarded six out of seven awards for academic achievement given to students attaining GPAs over 3.3.

Shaneaka Gibbs

Gibbs coped the School of Dance Award for all-rounded excellence given to the student from the school of dance who not only excelled as a performer but academically. She also received the Bert Rose Award named after one of the original 17 dancers who established the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) in 1962, one month after Jamaica gained its independence from Britain. Other awards obtained were the Rex Nettleford Award for outstanding performance and choreography, the Principal’s Award given to a student from each of the five schools with the highest GPA and the Chairman’s Award for the top-performer across all five schools.

“I am currently attached to two high schools in Jamaica heavily involved in theatre arts. I teach studio-based dance to both adults and kids and I still maintain the balance of not only performing with L’Acadco: A United Caribbean Dance Force, but now the Plie Collective, a combination of the most technical and competitive dancers based in Jamaica,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs knows all too well that none of her achievements came easy and she is not taking her success lightly. “I believe all of these opportunities as hectic as the schedules, as busy as I can be or as tired that they are equipping me with the tools I need to get to the ultimate goal. Being in the classroom further tests my pedagogical skills but also helps me stay abreast of Caribbean dance. It also helps with prospective research points and portfolio-building for my masters. Teaching studio-based dance keeps me motivated because I am a role model for students as they learn that it is not just about dance but the holistic individuals. As a performer I take as many classes as I can because trust me the dance world is competitive, you always have to be on top of your game because that can easily be someone twirling into your spot.”

During her 4-year tenure at EMCVPA, Gibbs represented at two Carifesta celebrations. She also assisted Dr L’antoinette Stines, founder, artistic director and principal choreographer of L’Acadco at the grand gala celebrations, choreographed for the winning JCDC song which EMCVPA will host its 5th Biennial Arts Conference and for Dancing Dynamite’s competitions in Jamaica. However, it was being chosen to be a partof the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference, which left a long-lasting impression on the young dancer.

“The biggest event, however, was the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference where I toured with L’Acadco to Dayton Ohio. During this, I was still in awe that I got selected to go to not represent solely L’Acadco or Jamaica but Grenada. Dance at the level I have never seen before, I mean I get goosebumps when recalling this experience. To witness blacks in dance, West Indians in dance, it is a moment that I knew I had to star in my life. The energy, the love, the support, though the dance world is competitive we find the moments where the experience is so fulfilling,” she said.

Gibbs is eager to one day give back to her island of birth by improving the performing arts in Grenada, noting that there is a need to expand the school’s curriculum to include dance choreography. “I do have plans to come home and continue giving of self-hoping that it can even be a toeprint in Grenada’s performing arts journey. My aim is to get into the industry through pedagogy, based on how the dance world is growing if we are able to not only teach studio dance but teach dance as part of a curriculum and give value to it for what it is and where it can go then it’s a start to the dance sector. The more knowledgeable we are as people is the more innovation and creativity that unfolds. [People] no longer see dance as just the entertainment, but we start seeing how it educates.”

She continued, “I aim to one day contribute to unfolding the identity of our people through movement. Codifying some of our traditional masquerades, traditional folk forms so that our cultural fingerprint is bolder pumping into our tourism sector by extension. The possibilities I may mention far too often that they are endless but I hope that I can create an artistic bridge after networking to allow students to explore dance locally, regionally and internationally. I believe if [people] can get a small catalyst they may be more open to the idea of dance.”

Stemming from her numerous her eye-opening experiences doing what she loves, Gibbs has identified several ways in which she can contribute towards the advancement of the local cultural dance industry.

The following is a list of ideas that she plans on implementing in Grenada in the not too distant future.

  • Teaching of our traditional folk forms in our schools
  • Teaching of our history as it relates to practitioners or contributors
  • Passing on of information for cultural continuity
  • Cultural awareness expo: music, dance, drama
  • Workshops hosted by local, regional and international teachers so students not only receive tri-island ready work and education but opportunities that are of international standards
  • More cultural development competitions across the schools, community groups and studio-based groups from singing, songwriting, drama, dance, calypso, soca, etc
  • Creation of a performing arts company that represents Grenada with a joining feeder group or auditioning group so students have a local goal to work towards
  • Network with Grenadians in the diaspora who have a passion for the performing arts and excelling to create an exchange programme or at least a scholarship experience in each artform.

Gibbs continues to be a beckon of hope for those students in Grenada who wish to venture into a nonconventional career path. “To the students wanting to pursue dance, I can be brutally honest and say it is hard, you are forced to uncover, discover and push yourself beyond your own physical or mental bounds. However, the product, the possibilities is the part that is the consolation. Dance teaches, it reveals and it heals. Be sure to declare your path with a destination at hand and never lose self in this journey. Always call to memory the fact that the power to dream, to achieve explodes once we believe,” she said.

Added to her accomplishments, Gibbs was offered a position at her alma mater, EMCVPA, as coordinator for the continuing education adult dance programme and lecturer for the junior programme.

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