Dawnita dances her way from UDP to the big screen
It’s been a busy period for Dawnita Smith.
She’s on the screen now in Disenchanted, the Disney film that was released last month; appearances in Wonka, Greatest Days and Snow White are to follow.
The dancer is grateful for the foundation she got and the support she continues to receive from Suzette Harvey and the instructors at United Dance Productions.
She got her start at the Court Street company around the age of 12. Ms Harvey, who was then a dance teacher at Dellwood Middle School, saw her promise and invited her to UDP for lessons.
“At the time I didn't really think much of it career-wise but I just enjoyed doing all the classes that I could and by the end I ended up doing every single style of dance,” she said.
Somewhere in her third year of high school it hit her that dance was something she wanted to pursue as a full-time profession.
“I just loved it so much. I didn't want to do anything else. Nothing else was really interesting to me. I barely would go out with my friends. I spent all my time at the dance studio — that was definitely my second home and I just loved it.
“All the teachers there, I loved learning from them. And Ms Harvey has just invested so much of herself in everybody — every student, not just myself. So many students who have gone to UDP have gone on and thrived in so many ways. I definitely wouldn't be here without UDP.”
Seven years after her first class, she moved to England to study at Bird College, a performing arts school in Sidcup, south-east London.
“You do three years of training — acting, dancing, singing every day of the week, sometimes on the weekend as well. Basically they prepare you for professional life after college and they have an in-house agent that helps you to find other agents once you've graduated.”
For the past five years Ms Smith has been represented by Paling and Jenkins Artist Management.
She was in Bermuda when Disenchanted was presented as an opportunity. She recorded her audition at UDP.
“I had to film myself doing the choreography that they sent to us in February last year. I didn't really think much of it. I just enjoyed filming the self-tape. And then I had to also send a 30-second video describing myself and where I'm located.
“I heard back from my agent maybe within a week that I had gotten it. I was actually really shocked because I didn't expect to hear back so soon.”
Disenchanted was filmed in Dublin last year when “nothing was really open” and social distancing measures were still in place because of the pandemic.
The movie is a sequel to Enchanted, the 2007 musical about a love story in the fairytale land of Andalasia. Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey and Idina Menzel play lead roles in the 2022 film.
According to its synopsis: “Fifteen years after her happily ever after, Giselle questions her happiness, inadvertently turning the lives of those in the real world and Andalasia upside down in the process.”
“That was my first movie,” said Ms Smith, who performed on London’s West End in Memphis, Aladdin, 42nd Street, Bat Out of Hell and On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. “And since then I've actually been in three other movies that have yet to come out.
“I’m dancing and obviously we're acting at the same time. We don't speak but we sing, because it's a musical movie. We were in Dublin so that was quite exciting — to be in a different place and actually do filming and rehearsals and everything. The experience was really enjoyable.
“We were there for six weeks. We did two scenes. We started off with two weeks of rehearsals and then filmed one scene and then another two weeks of rehearsals and then filmed the other scene. And it was just amazing, especially to work with the choreographer and the director, Adam Shankman. He was actually in the room as well. It was really a great experience to have.”
She is grateful for the training that prepared her for the career path she is now on.
“Ms Harvey instilled in us to be us, but to also have the discipline and the work ethic; to work hard for what we wanted if we really wanted it, to work towards our goal.
“She’s always said you need to put in the time if you want to get the opportunities. And it all worked out in the end because I did that — along with so many other people at UDP.”
Ms Smith continued: “I always wanted to try to be the best and stand out as much as I could, not because I wanted anybody to watch me but just because I loved it so much. I love dancing so much. I love performing so much and just making people in the audience smile. So that's really what I enjoyed. And Ms Harvey saw that passion in me and she invested in me, definitely.”
United Dance Productions will host its first Soulful Christmas show since 2019 this weekend.
The pandemic put a pause on the once-annual concert. Tickets for the “high-energy 90-minute show” featuring dancers ages 6 through 17, are now on sale at bdatix.bm.
“The company dancers in the school will be performing our Christmas repertoire which is contemporary, along with other classes in the school which will perform all other genres,” said Suzette Harvey, UDP’s founder and artistic director.
“This is a very special showcase to our audiences as these dances are only performed at Christmas, like the Nutcracker.”
A Soulful Christmas takes place at 7pm on Friday and Saturday at Ruth Seaton James Centre for the Performing Arts.
At the moment she’s enjoying Britain and all the work and travel opportunities there but her hope is to one day return home with her partner and their two-month-old daughter.
“I do miss my home and I miss my family a lot,” she said. “My partner is from Bermuda as well. So we definitely want to make sure that our daughter also has that kind of home-feel and upbringing that we had in Bermuda, but the UK is where I've settled for now.”