Cayman’s dance talent did not disappoint at the auditions for the island’s first dance competition, Got Dance?, last Saturday.
Although only about 30 dancers auditioned, the quality of dancing was high among those who were brave enough to strut their stuff for the judges, said event organiser Susan Barnes Pereira of Barnes Dance Academy Ltd., the co-sponsor of Got Dance?, along with Butterfield.
‘I was disappointed with the turnout in terms of numbers – we had poor district representation in West Bay and North Side – but I was extremely impressed with the high standard of entries,’ said Mrs. Barnes Pereira.
Rita Estavanovich and Cassandra Whittaker judged the West Bay auditions, Peter Bodden and Cynthia Hew were the judges for South Sound, Suzette Charlery and Yentel McGaw judged Bodden Town and Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette and Michelle Murray appraised the competition in North Side.
Mrs. Barnes Pereira chose the judges based on dance training or experience or performance experience. ‘It was important for me to marry the individuals with the two different backgrounds because we want to look at each of their entrants both on their skill level and their natural performance ability,’ she explained.
‘This also allows us to promote the high standard of technical experience and display with the popular stage presence and what I refer to as ‘audience likability’.’
Mrs. Hew was impressed with the dancers she saw at the South Sound auditions on Saturday afternoon.
‘The auditions opened my eyes to the variety of dance styles we have here in Cayman,’ she said. ‘They certainly exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen quite a lot of dance techniques on TV but have never seen the acrobats, energy and passion up close like I did on Saturday. I’m excited to see what the other districts will be bringing to the final on 20 June.’
Mrs. Hew had worked with Mrs. Barnes Pereira on a volunteer project previously, and was delighted when she was approached to judge the contest.
‘I received a call from Susan a few weeks ago telling me about the auditions and her idea for the competition,’ said Mrs. Hew. ‘We had done volunteer work together a few years ago with a group of young, talented girls – Walker’s Broadway Class Act.
‘When she asked me to be a judge I jumped at the chance to be involved in such an empowering event. We have so many gifted young people here in Cayman and it’s a real honour to be involved in an activity like Got Dance? that allows them to showcase their talents.’
At the South Sound auditions, dance group Reggae Boyz brought their own style of dance to the stage, and were introduced as dancers of international and pop styles.
The group has a strong following on MySpace and YouTube and is no stranger to public performances, having just returned from Connecticut where they performed at a nightclub opening. Their goal is to go professional with their dancing.
Evelyn Walsh tried her hand at the auditions also, opting to dance to a piece of music from the film Moulin Rouge and freestyling her way through the audition. Although the judges did not pass her through to the next round, Mrs. Hew praised her smile and sunny attitude.
A standout competitor was 21-year-old Lisani Sambula, who turned out a freestyle hip hop performance that wowed the judges and the crowd, so much so that he was asked to repeat his performance.
‘I’ve been dancing since I was about 13,’ said Mr. Sambula. ‘I was always into music because my father (Fred Sambula) is a musician. So I always had the music bug and as I grew up I started to see Michael Jackson perform and watch old break dance movies such as Breakin’ and it just drew me in, how these guys could move and look like water is flowing through them and slide all around like they’re floating on air.
‘I started to try it too but I would have to wear socks on the tile floor to slide. I used to catch a lot of heat for liking Michael Jackson and trying to dance like him and Ginuwine and Usher. I wasn’t that good at first but I kept at it and I improved.’
That is an understatement, as Mr. Sambula’s fluid style, which he defines as ‘energetic, smooth and unique’, has impressed many in Cayman and further afield.
Betsy Ann Woyach, a professional hip hop dancer in Hollywood, has taught hip hop courses on island previously and first met Mr. Sambula last summer.
‘He came and took my hip hop classes and even tried the jazz class to show that he wasn’t scared,’ said Ms Woyach. ‘He’s an incredible freestyler – multiple times he would instigate battles with me and I’ve got nothing on his freestyle.
‘His waves are what blow my mind – he can make his body wave every which-a-way! He’s precise and polished too; he knows how to isolate every joint of his body to get the exact visual effect you want when waving, which is basically that you have no bones.’
Mr. Sambula is humble about his talent. ‘Betsy is a great dancer, and I’m always shocked to get compliments from dancers of her calibre – dancers that have worked with all the people you hear on the radio or see on television,’ he said. ‘I used to think about travelling and focusing on dance but dancing, for me, became more of a hobby because I didn’t see much of a future in it at the time, so I got into making music and songs which I am really into now.’
Ms Woyach disagrees, and sees a bright future in dance for Mr. Sambula. ‘His talent is embedded in him, he barely has to practise – but he is an inspiration because he carries his own unique style that I see come to life more and more every time he dances,’ she said. ‘He’s an advanced dancer because his musicality is more like that of a professional dancer here (in Hollywood).’
His decision to try out for Got Dance? was an easy one, as he had been waiting for an opportunity such as this to arise in Cayman for a while.
‘I always used to wish that Cayman would have something like this,’ Mr. Sambula said. ‘I always saw dance competitions on TV and wondered why no one did that here. There was never much focus on hip hop in Cayman which is why I started dancing less and less as I got older because there weren’t many opportunities.’
Thirteen dancers will go into the Got Dance? final, being held on Saturday, 20 June at 7pm at Camana Bay’s newly-opened Arts and Recreation Centre.
‘We have dancers from popular, hip hop, reggae and salsa styles,’ said Mrs. Barnes Pereira. ‘We will have a celebrity judge present who is a hip hop and tap instructor and was involved with the first few seasons, both as a choreographer and a judge, on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance?. Given his experience and training we could not think of a better judge for the event.’
The identity of this celebrity judge is a surprise at the moment, but Mrs. Barnes Pereira had more exciting news to share about the celebrity judge’s involvement with dancing in Cayman.
‘He will also be returning in the summer to teach at our free two-week summer intensive that will involve taking classes out into the districts, and giving performances within public settings in each of the districts,’ she said.