Cayman’s Got Dance

Cayman’s talent turned out for the Got Dance? finale last Saturday night at Camana Bay’s newly-opened Arts and Recreation Centre.

Though it would be difficult to fill the large space completely, the stadium seats and floor seats boasted a large turnout and the shouts and screams of the various competitors’ supporters were enough to fill a space three times as large as the 20,000-square-foot hall.

Sponsored by Camana Bay and Butterfield and organised by Barnes Dance Academy Ltd the competition came to a head last weekend after district auditions two weeks ago revealed 11 finalists would be taking the stage.

Judges were randomly selected from the eight judges who presided over the district auditions.

The draw saw three local performing arts representatives take their seats on the judging panel on Saturday night: Rita Estevanovich, programmes manager at the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, Peter ‘Gucci’ Bodden, a well-known local choreographer and dancer with regional and international dance experience, and Cynthia Hew, co-host of CITN’s Daybreak morning show. A fourth judge joined them for the special event: Nick Gonzalez, the celebrity judge visiting from Los Angeles.

Mr. Gonzalez is an accomplished tap and hip hop dancer, who has appeared on two seasons of So You Think You Can Dance? and teaches a number of master classes in California. He will return to Cayman later this summer to teach at Barnes Dance Academy’s summer workshop, which funds raised from the Got Dance? competition will partly fund.

Barnes Dance Academy owner Susan Barnes Pereira felt ‘privileged’ to have Mr. Gonzalez on island to help with the competition.

‘He is such a giving person who is more than willing to share his incredible wealth of knowledge and experience with others,’ said Mrs. Pereira. ‘We share the vision of empowering young people to achieve their full potential and achieve personal growth and success.’

The event was hosted by Miss Cayman Nicosia Lawson and Greg Barnes, who kept the show moving and invited input from the judges after each performance.

Made up of both individuals and dance groups who, between them, cover a variety of dance styles, the performers had two weeks to learn a choreographed routine, given to them by Barnes Dance Academy choreographers in a style that was randomly selected, as well as choreograph a routine themselves in their own choice of dance style.

The routines which they were taught were performed throughout the evening’s first round, and judges were encouraging considering that the dancers were all performing in a genre outside their specialty.

Standout performances from the first round included Latrese Haylock (performing under the stage name Tracee Baby), who displayed complete commitment to her reggae routine, and Feva, otherwise known as Lisani Sambula, who performed a humorous Broadway musical theatre routine to the song Mr. Cellophane from the musical Chicago.

Ms Estevanovich told Mr. Sambula ‘you belong in the theatre’ while Ms Hew claimed that ‘so far, you are my favourite’.

The real entertainment began in round two, when the performers were able to show off their signature styles with adventurous choreography and plenty of passion.

All-girl group AyySap, made up of Marleena Smith, Arissa Anglin, Chenney Hall, Glennique Bodden and Ashleigh Reid, showed more consistency among their outfits than they did in the first round, and their choreographed routine was tighter and more in sync than their first performance as well, earning them accolade from the judges.

Lianet Hydes, performing a Cuban salsa under the name Cosita, wowed the judges with her costume, which ultimately won her the Best Costume award. Ms Hydes, from Cuba originally, thanked the organisers of the competition for the opportunity and Mr. Gonzalez was so taken with her performance that he could only compliment her in Spanish, though it needed little translation, as the words ‘muy caliente’ were heard throughout the arena.

‘I heard you just had a baby,’ Mrs. Hew said to Ms Hydes after her performance. ‘I should give you straight 10s just for performing so soon after that.’

Brittny Helvestor rocked out with a modern dance routine to a classic rock song, which she chose because ‘I love rock music,’ she said. ‘And I wanted to do something fun and that I loved.’

Fresh Boyz, made up of members Keiron Cann, Andre Gayle, Kingsley McFarlane and Tristan Thompson, blew the judges and the audience away with their routine which included such risky stunts as creating a human jumprope, with one dancer swung around as the skipping rope and another jumping over him several times in a row.

The audience were on their feet in a standing ovation after that performance, which left many of the judges speechless.

Mr. Sambula’s passionate krump and hip hop routine had Mr. Gonzalez promise him that he could attend his classes for free whenever he was in Cayman teaching. ‘You have so much potential,’ he told Mr. Sambula.

Matthew Lewis’ pop and lock routine was Mr. Gonzalez’s favourite ‘pop and lock routine of the night’ and the judges thanked Mr. Lewis’ friend who urged him to audition and also assisted him at the beginning of the routine, as without his encouragement they may have never seen his performance.

Xcitement, a group of male dancers, were consistently strong throughout the first and second round, impressing the judges and audience with their white and red suits and hats in the first round, during which they performed a jazz routine choreographed by Barnes Dance Academy’s Cassandra Whittaker, and with their powerful dance in the second round in their signature style of dancehall reggae.

The quality of their performances was sufficient to award Xcitement the title of Cayman’s top dancer, with a $1,000 cash prize donated by the Barnes family. The first place prize was doubled thanks to a spontaneous donation by Claude and Rosie Myles, who were inspired by the level of talent displayed on the evening, meaning the total prize was $2,000.

Xcitement also took the $150 cash prize for most original choreography. The group is made up of Marlon Crowe, Elbert McField, Dave Tibbetts and Julian Powery.

Having won for best costume, Ms Hydes was awarded with sample clothing from Worldwhere, a US hip hop dance clothing line. This prize was made possible through the efforts of Mr. Gonzalez.

Ms Helvestor’s performance was also awarded with another unplanned prize. National Security, one of the event’s sponsors, gave a $500 scholarship to Ms Helvestor which enables her to dance with the Barnes Dance Academy, Ltd. performance team.

Ms Estevanovich was delighted with the quality of talent displayed on the night.

‘I was very much impressed with the quality of work that was put out by the competitors, and was pleasantly surprised to see so many young men involved,’ said Ms Estevanovich after the night was over. ‘I hope that this experience will encourage the dancers to continue exploring other dance styles, to broaden their existing dance vocabulary and also to collaborate more with each other.

‘It was a wonderful evening, and I hope we get double the dancers next year, because I know they’re out there.’

For Mrs. Pereira, her pride was both for the launch of the event and for the finalists themselves.

‘I felt especially privileged to have witnessed the audience’s reaction to the finalists and their acknowledgment of the incredible value in their true and natural talent,’ said Mrs. Pereira after Saturday night’s finale.

‘I am honoured to have shared that learning experience with all of the finalists and I feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that they all left as better performers and more confident individuals than when they first arrived.’

Next year is already on Mrs. Pereira’s mind, as she hopes to make Got Dance? an annual event.

‘The finalists set a high standard for others to follow and I am already looking forward to next year,’ she said. ‘The event was phenomenal. Cayman talent definitely Got Dance!’