Hoofing it up in New Jersey
The convention was a first for Bermuda Dance Academy, a chance to show off their skills to a wider audience.
The students who attended welcomed the challenge head-on: two received scholarships and all 12 earned scores of “high gold” for their performances at the Adrenaline Dance showcase in New Jersey.
“I wanted to expose their skills and challenge them artistically and was really pleased with how our kids did,” said Nikia Manders, the Dance Academy's owner and director. “The feedback, as far as how the choreography and performances went, was good.
“It was nice for them to dance with other kids, most of whom perform five or six days a week and are studying at a higher level.
“But it was an opportunity for our kids to see what they can aspire and strive to.”
The convention, which ran from February 14 to 16 at the Hyatt New Brunswick, was a showcase of roughly 400 dancers from seven schools.
The BDA's group of eight to 16-year-olds performed four dances: two hip-hop, one modern and one jazz.
Sixteen family members travelled to see them along with Ms Manders and teachers Ashley Smith, Shawnae Brangman and Sierra Spencer.
The experience took Ms Manders back to her childhood.
Her mother, Linda, taught dance for 40 years at Warwick Secondary School and Clearwater Middle School and would often compete in Dancemakers conventions in the US.
“I was exposed to those things growing up,” she said. “I went to conventions with her and wanted to make sure, in opening my school, that I exposed students to overseas trips as well.”
Ms Manders got her grounding in dance at Jackson's School of Performing Arts.
At State University New York, at Buffalo, she received a fine arts degree; soon after graduating, she spent six months performing with Celebrity Cruise Lines.
“It was a great experience and I enjoyed that,” said the dancer, who in 2008 earned a master's degree in dance education at New York University.
Five years ago, she opened Bermuda Dance Academy, well aware of the number of schools already in existence.
“I wanted to impact the community,” she said. “I wanted to share my vision and passion with the larger community so that, hopefully, by the time [my dancers] get in high school, they'll have a different perspective and understanding of dance.
“I just wanted to do more, I wanted to raise the level of dance.
“There's a lot of competition in terms of dance, a lot of schools out there, but I feel we are doing well in giving another option for good quality dance training.”
As such, Ms Manders was pleased to see how well Savannah Denkins, Da'Kota Gibbons, Amaiah Jimenez, Sanziniah Raynor, Tjaia Walker, Karis Masters, Kari Scott, Zakhya Scott, Ni'Ajah Edwards, Ilyana Smith, Kennedy Steeves and O'Neshe Morrision compared with more experienced dancers last month.
The two scholarship recipients, Sanziniah and Zakhya, were selected to participate in City Crew, the convention finale.
The group's hip-hop performance, Fresh Kidzz, was awarded “Best of Show” and also selected to perform at the end.
“We did as much as we could to prepare them for competition and convention,” Ms Manders said. “The dancers had been training since October.
“In order to participate, they had to attend additional classes, learn new choreography and perform during the Christmas Parade and [other holidays such as Bermuda Day].
“We were travelling far away. It was not just about going to a convention, we had to be prepared for the convention.
“I think they were nervous and their parents too. They didn't know what to expect. It was dance on a larger scale than what we do in Bermuda.
“Several [of the US schools] compete every month, at the weekend they take workshops regularly; they will be exposed to much more.”
She kept that in mind as she searched for a convention. Part of Adrenaline Dance's appeal was that it wasn't “too large”.
“The [students and parents] had a very positive outlook and experience.
Ms Manders explained: “It was good for us. Each child competed in two dances.
“I'm so thankful for my teachers. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them working around the clock.”
Although eager to return, cost is an issue. A lot of work went into making last month's convention a reality.
“I would definitely like to go to Adrenaline again,” Ms Manders said. “We went to the regionals, but they also have nationals and summer programmes. For us it's about financial means.
“We are thankful for their supportive parents who have worked diligently to encourage their child to reach their goals and who have participated in numerous bake sales and community events to raise funds to support their dancers travel expenses.
“We would like to thank The Bermuda Arts Council and the National Dance Foundation of Bermuda for their generous donations to the school and our travel expenses.”
• For more on Bermuda Dance Academy visit bermudadanceacademy.com