Sky high dreams
MEGGHAN MICHAEL will be the first to admit she isn’t the normal beauty queen: “My body wasn’t designed to be skinny. I knew before I entered the pageant that I was going up against girls who were much smaller than me and I had to do some serious self-prodding to actually enter the pageant,” said the reigning Miss Holetown 2015, while adjusting her spandex shorts and caftan. “The end result of me then winning the same pageant was a surprise to me. I am still taking it in.”
“I’m coming at you again,” said photographer Randy Phillips. “One, two, three,” he shouted, as Megghan jumped on three.
Over and over and over she jumped, landing each time on the pool deck of the eighth floor of Ocean Two resort.
Each time Randy wanted her to go higher and higher, and at one point she seemed to be suspended in air, with toes pointed and face intense.
Back on solid ground Megghan then flows effortlessly into a split, and in the stillness of the Saturday morning the sound of the shutterspeed of Randy’s Nikon seemed never-ending. Megghan never loses her balance as she then poses on one leg, and without instruction just goes into different configurations.
It is as natural to her to do those moves as to breathe. Megghan has been dancing since age six with the renowned group, Dancin’ Africa.
The past student of Wesley Hall Primary and The Barbados Community College (associate degree in sociology and literature) said she used to pass the group practising at their Passage Road base and persuaded her mum to let her join.
“I used to see the girls doing all these exciting moves and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
Trained in classical, folk, modern and West African traditional, Megghan said her best moves come in the latter.
“It’s West African all the way for me. I feel so homely and earthy doing it. It is a high-energy dance. When the group is looking for someone to lead a section in that genre they say Megghan,” she said, laughing.
The accomplished dancer has also won many awards and accolades for her talent, being part of many of Dancin’ Africa’s NIFCA (National Independence Festival of Creative Arts) showpieces and was part of the award-winning Aisha Comissiong-choreographed Mirror Images in 2011.
Megghan has also used her skills to impart knowledge by way of teaching dance. “I have been teaching at St Leonard’s Church for the past five years. I also teach the Gentle Steps camp and in 2013 we went to the NIFCA Gala after we won silver doing a Landship piece. I also teach Warrens Primary School and I teach the youngest group (three to six years old) at Dancin’ Africa for the past two years.
“I love teaching the young ones and seeing them soak it up like sponges. I get to be so creative with them and I do a lot of improv with them,” she said excitedly.
Dancing is a stressful and strenuous activity and Megghan said she has to be mindful of injuries and how she takes care of her body.
“It depends on what shows Dancin’ Africa is doing. Sometimes we rehearse from 7 p.m., to 1 a.m., and I have to juggle that with my studies,” explained the 20-something University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus student, doing a double major in sociology and psychology.
“Some days, just for a second though, I ask myself why am I doing this [dancing] and for what. Some days I want to quit and some days I don’t want to go to rehearsals but the end result is very rewarding.
“I have travelled with various artistes such as Biggie Irie to Trinidad twice for the International Groovy Monarch competition, including this year. Even during Miss Holetown training I was working. Life didn’t stop for me because I was in a pageant. I have also danced for [soca artiste] Blood and also Soka Kartel, Kirk Brown and the Energy Band, Mr Dale, RPB. I have done music videos,” she counted off on her fingers.
Through it all, Megghan has suffered some hamstring injuries that took long to repair but didn’t keep her off her feet.
“They didn’t stop me from dancing but I had to curb some of the harder movements. When I entered Miss Holetown 2015 my talent was a dance and I prayed hard not to be injured as that would have been a big blow. I was still dancing for my regular engagements also so I had to be extra careful.”
The dance for Miss Holetown was choreographed by friend and well-known dancer Keisha Dowridge and took three weeks of rehearsals to get everything on point.
“To think I wasn’t going to enter the pageant,” she said, laughing. “That is an interesting story,” she continued, laughing harder.
As the story goes, Megghan was a big supporter of the pageant over the years, screaming and applauding for many of the contestants who happen to be good friends of hers. When she wasn’t front of stage cheerleading, she was on stage as a dancer in a talent piece or two.
For about two years a friend kept encouraging her to enter, with Megghan staunchly refusing each time. After the 2014 pageant was won by her friend Zhané Padmore, she was again urged to enter by the pageant chaperone.
Megghan’s stumbling block? Her size.
“I told her I was too fat. Look at all the girls in pageants and beauty contests. They are very skinny or small. My body wasn’t that size. In fact I was much bigger than what you see now at the pageant finale. But she kept sending me pictures of girls from different islands who looked like me in size and colour who were actually entering pageants and winning.”
But Megghan still wasn’t convinced.
“She told me take a week and sleep on it. I said why am I holding myself back from an experience? Because I am different from other girls in size doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to offer. There are a lot of girls bigger than me who dance too.”
Megghan signed up for the pageant and hit the gym at UWi six days a week to work out.
“I was working out from October to start of pageant. For dancing you have to condition yourself. Drink lots of water and do lots of cardio to keep up your energy. We do a lot of stretching for flexibility but we don’t use too much weights as they tense up your muscles. But my exercise routine for the pageant I had to use more weights and I did a lot of high intensity training. I found that I toned up a lot and gained muscle mass.
“For me while I wanted to lose some of my weight I wanted to be fit and toned.”
On finale night Megghan was a crowd favourite, with many cheering for the “big girl” on stage.
“I was very nervous. I didn’t want to mess up. I wasn’t comfortable being on stage in that forum. Many people thought I had it but pagentry is a different game. When I’m with Dancin’ Africa that’s a group but with Miss Holetown it was me, alone, in front a picky crowd.”
But Megghan said now she had no regrets.
“I won and I am still amazed I won. I have to represent Barbados in an overseas pageant but now my feet are wet I feel a bit better about that. I would recommend Miss Holetown to any girl. Even though I had to do a lot of appearances it was good meeting people. The etiquette classes were informative as well as the other programmes. Toastmasters was the best part of the training and played a big part in the pageant process. Even making new friends with the other six contestants was good.”
Megghan, who also won Best Gown (made by her cousin Rotchelle Parris of Pink Lemonade), said she was glad she didn’t turn down the opportunity.
“Everything is a learning experience. If you don’t do it you won’t know how it will end.”
Megghan’s big plans are to eventually open a dance school in Barbados, after completing some overseas stints.
“Performing really is my passion. I live and breathe performing.”