A life filled with dance
All the social distancing during the pandemic has made some people antsy, but not Conchita Ming.
She loves being at home where she always has a project on the go.
Most recently she traced a branch of her family back to Tom Munson, a slave born in Africa. In doing so she grew fascinated by the advertisements for runaway slaves and slave sales in Bermuda’s newspapers.
Her work might end up in book form.
The 72-year-old’s slow-paced life is a heady contrast to her younger days when dual careers as a dance teacher and social worker kept her busy. Added to that she had two children to care for, Ari and Alana.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it all,” she laughed. “I keep thinking: Did I miss out on anything? You get involved with these things. Life just seems to happen.”
Mrs Ming spent her early years in England, in an East London neighbourhood. Her family lived there while her father, Coleridge Williams, studied law. Her mother, Connie Cann, worked as a teacher.
“I was the only black child at the school I went to,” Mrs Ming said. “My father used to complain that I was getting a cockney accent.”
It was in London that she took her first dance lessons.
At 11, she returned to Bermuda with her family and became one of the late Louise Jackson’s first pupils at Jackson’s School of Performing Arts.
As much as she loved it, becoming a professional dancer seemed out of the question.
“Education was extremely important to my family,” she said. “It was really important for blacks to be educated because it was denied to us for so long. There was no way I could have considered dance as a career.”
After graduating from the Berkeley Institute, she studied sociology at Wagner College in New York and managed to also find time for dance classes.
“That was my introduction to modern dance,” Mrs Ming said. “I still stay in touch with my teacher.”
After getting her bachelor’s she intended to study counselling at the University of Manitoba but as “Canada was giving preference to Canadians” she could not get into that programme.
Instead she studied early childhood education and then got her master’s degree in counselling. It also gave Mrs Ming her first “opportunity to dance professionally”, with the Contemporary Dancers of Winnipeg.
She returned home and joined the Department of Family Services. In 1978 she helped form what is today called the Child Development Programme which works to assist families with children from birth to age four.
She also taught dance at Jackson’s and in 1977 formed The Bermuda Dance Theatre company with other professional dancers here.
“We were all choreographing, and it was a fun time,” Mrs Ming said. “It was very interesting. Then we wanted to make it more of a national company. So it became the National Dance Theatre of Bermuda. We existed from 1977 until it folded and became the National Dance Foundation in 2003. I had the greatest fun. There were great opportunities. We would bring teachers in from abroad to assist us. We would be trying out different things as a group.”
Choreography is her great love as it allows her to “express ideas and thoughts” through dance.
“I am always watching people’s movements,” Mrs Ming said. “And sometimes I will hear a story and I can just see what that story could be. I always try to think, what is the positive in the story?”
She has choreographed dances about different aspects of Bermuda’s history. One, of the abolitionist and autobiographer Mary Prince, was performed at City Hall during emancipation commemoration events in 2019. Her granddaughter, Arielle Lee Ming, danced in the piece.
Mrs Ming has been involved in a number of community projects since her retirement in 2002.
In that same year she helped the Bermuda Regiment organise the Bermuda Tattoo and, as chair of the Bermuda 2009 Committee, arranged activities to mark Bermuda’s 400th anniversary.
“That was three years of involvement,” she said. “Then I wanted to write a book on dance in Bermuda … That ended up being a long project.”
At first she was only going to do autobiographies of dancers she had known who had died but as she got deeper into researching the book, the scope of her idea grew to include the entire history of dance on the island.
“I learnt so much,” she said.
In 2010, Mrs Ming was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her service to the community. She released her book, Dance Bermuda, seven years later.
Her work on the programme advisory committee of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts has recently kept her busy.
“We have been organising a virtual festival,” she said. “It has been really cool. I think going forward we definitely want to bring performances back live, but there will be a virtual component that can stay as well. It broadens things even more than ever thought about before. I am excited for the opportunities that can take place.”
Mrs Ming and her husband Henry met as teenagers, when they were neighbours on Elliott Street in Hamilton. The pair celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary on August 8.
These days Mrs Ming only dances “around the house”. She won’t leave home without first having done an hour of Pilates and yoga.
“I usually do something in the evening also,” she said. “It is important to keep moving.”
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the person’s full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them