Jennifer Sealy (Picture by Christoff Griffith.)
If you speak to Jennifer Sealy, the “cultural ambassador” is a wealth of knowledge. The current director of celebrated local dance group Dancin’ Africa says she is comfortable in her skin and pleased to see all she has achieved.
“Leading the group has been a rich experience. It has helped me to grow. It has helped the group to grow. It has not always been easy. I have had to put my foot down and to say this is the niche we have created for ourselves and we are pushing through it, no matter how hard it gets,” she said.
In a relaxing interview at Savannah Hotel before a speaking engagement, Sealy, also a retired primary school teacher, took EASY magazine on a journey of her career – reflecting on the highs and the lows.
Sealy said from as early as she could remember, she was interested in dance and all things cultural.
“My childhood was rich. I was a church girl. First Moravian then Anglican. I got involved in church activities very young. I was a member of the church council for a long time, the St John Cultural And Dramatic Group, and being a part of that gave me a rich, cultural foundation,” she explained.
However, due to lack of finances, Sealy’s mother could not afford to send her to any dance classes so she had to make the most of what she had.
“I’ve always loved dance. But my mother couldn’t afford it. She was a single parent. My father was in Britain. Dance was life for me. But I just couldn’t afford it. I went to Christ Church Foundation School and they had a vibrant dance programme but I lived in St John, so I had to make my way home on evenings, so no extracurricular activities at school. But I was a part of the St John Cultural And Dramatic Group,” she said.
Then, the opportunity of a lifetime came and that helped to shape the rest of Sealy’s dance life.
“I got the opportunity to start dance when I met Tyrone Trotman in 1977 when the group represented Barbados in Guadeloupe at a festival. We became very good friends and I went to learn formal dance with him. Years later he invited me to assist with Dance National Afrique. He told me he wanted my eyes to come help clean the work and help with the costuming and so on. Then he asked me to stay on. Then out of that Dancin’ Africa was born in 1992,” she recalled.
“For me it was an experience that I got, what I would call, late in my life. I was in my 30s. That’s late to be starting formal dancing. But it was a rich experience and it was an experience that gave me the opportunity to propel a group forward while at the same time honing my skills as a dancer.”
Sealy began as artistic director of the group and has led the group to numerous awards, some of which she also received herself.
“At that time I was heavily involved in dancing. I think I stepped out of the formal dance activity when my daughter Toni was doing Common Entrance. Then I just continued to guide and teach where I could at times,” she said.
But while dance for her was life, teaching was her first love and still a huge part of who she is today.
“Once a teacher always a teacher. I taught for close to 42 years. Primary was my first love but I did some teaching at Barbados Community College. I spent eight years in the Ministry of Education creating a programme that would help teachers use more movement strategies in the classrooms across all age groups. We trained teachers and assessed their progress in schools. It’s now assigned to Erdiston Teachers Training College,” she explained.
For her dedication to the teaching fraternity, Sealy was awarded a Golden Jubilee award back in 2016.
Being a teacher, Sealy told EASY, has assisted her in the way that she has led the group to much success over the years.
“As a teacher, I’m not only interested in how well they can dance; I’m interested in their academics, personal, spiritual and social as well. That is what Dancin’ Africa means. We are concerned with creating wholesome people. Our aim is to educate, empower and to entertain,” she stressed.
Sealy added that one thing she was most happy about, was being able to provide a platform for young dancers to have an outlet to express themselves.
“One of my greatest blessings is seeing young dancers who might not have had an opportunity, dancing. I always felt that I needed to give that opportunity to others . . . . Giving opportunity to those who might not have been able to afford it or known that they had it in them. That is a rich reward for me,” she said.
But since her retirement from teaching, she has taken a step back from being so hands on with the group and leading from the background.
“Over the last two years since I retired from teaching I don’t go around that often. I do not go to Dancin’ Africa’s base every day to oversee classes. We have a good team there,” she said.
However, this in no way means she is stepping down anytime soon.
“I will always lead from the background. I still have something left in me but I want to pass that on to the seniors. We have started that. They are some that have expressed an interest in directing so the mantle will be passed,” she added.
But while Sealy may be slowing down in some instances from the limelight with Dancin’ Africa, she plans to lend her talents elsewhere and learn new things.
“I see myself as having a mentoring spirit. I think I need to do a bit more church-related work. I believe I will do a bit more of that in the near future. If I could have in the past I probably would have explored dance academically but it’s not too late for that. I’m not too old to get involved in something like that. But I’m comfortable in my skin,” she said confidently. (DB)