Gombey dancer living the high life
The Bermuda Day Parade can bring a heavy crowd; this year Wayne Raynor Jr stood head and shoulders above it. Literally.
The dancer for H & H Gombeys was on stilts, made just four days before the annual spectacle.
He estimated a total of four hours of practice at the troupe's familiar spot, Pig's Field, but “the real test was that day”.
“I was determined not to fall — that's what led me to being good on them,” he said.
“I told myself, I'm at least going to make it to Front Street. That was my drive. Once I made it to Front Street, I just kept walking.”
The 32-year-old is the eldest grandchild of the troupe's founder, Lawrence Hendrickson.
“I've been dancing Gombeys my whole life, since I was four,” he said.
A trip to Trinidad carnival in February gave him the idea for stilts.
“I wanted to do something different.
“I came back and I spoke to my captain, Shawn Casey, and told him what I wanted to do.”
The pair insisted on “Caribbean culture” rather than circus tricks.
Mr Raynor proposed something along the lines of Trinidadian stilt walkers, the Moko Jumbie.
He remembers a visiting stilt walker at his primary school when he was seven. His classmates filed through the dancer's legs, one by one.
“It always stuck in my head and when I saw them in Trinidad, I thought, ‘I wonder if I could do that?'
The first prototype used a two-by-four, but it proved too heavy.
A carpenter he met at King Street institution Artie Black's, came up with the idea of using wooden dowels.
“I tested them out, had them add some straps to make it tighter. They hooked them up and I was up and gone,” he said.
Now he is practising the dance moves.
“When you see the Gombeys dancing, and they do one step, I want to be able to do that [on stilts],” he said.
The platform stands about four feet high, but he plans to raise it to six feet, to accommodate the crowds. He hopes it will inspire other to try it.
“Seeing the small amount of people in the parade now, what's going on? What are people into?” he asked.
“It feels like the culture's just slowly dying out. Majorettes, Gombeys, big floats, carnival floats — we used to have lots of majorette groups in the parade. This year there were two. So, if people want to learn, I'd be willing to teach them.”
He suspects television is partly behind the dwindling numbers.
“Kids just want to sit inside and play games and watch TV. It's like it's a social problem. Even the parents, they're trying to keep their kids away from trouble, but they don't know how they're destroying them in the long run.
“Most of our Gombeys are products of single mothers and we try to be role models for them. The first one to ask me, ‘I want to try that', I'll make them some stilts.”
There are more than 30 dancers in his troupe, which has been going 26 years strong.
“I give the props to [Shawn Casey],” the father-of-two said.
“At one point I started backing off from Gombeys. I didn't do the parade once. I stayed at home. I felt like I was getting to be a man.
“He put me back in my place and told me, ‘This is yours, it's not mine. I'm just helping your uncle and your papa, to give you guys the knowledge to continue this.'
“So, everything that I come up with, anything that we do, I give him the props.
“If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even be here.
“When we were younger, we were always taught by Shawn: watch what I do and do it to your fullest. He used to rough us up real good — I used to think that he didn't like us, but at the end of the day, he was doing the right thing.”