BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
Whether you like it or not, the rhythm is going to get you. Dance is a performance art form that consists of purposefully selected sequences of movement. Every move has an aesthetic, a symbolic value and is acknowledged in different styles by those who practice the art form.
Professional choreographer, dance instructor and performer Kay-Ann Ward immigrated to Canada from Jamaica when she was eight years old. Growing up in Jamaica, she loved to dance. Dancehall and Soca music were apart of her Jamaican culture, and seeing people immerse themselves in the rhythm of the music, watching it flow through their body was something that she wanted to carry with her throughout life.
“When a woman dances, and moves her hips I consider that art, I thought that was a beautiful thing and it was amazing watching people move and dance to the music; it was so very free.” shares Kay-Ann.
Growing up in Toronto, Kay-Ann saw dance as a dream worth pursuing, but hovering just out of reach. Hoping to find ways to implement elements of dance in her life, she took a ballet class that didn’t quite reach her expectations. Although she enjoyed it, the structure that she craved wasn’t there and had she wanted to pursue it further, it wasn’t going to be financially feasible for her to continue.
“When I was younger, people thought professional dance art forms were things like jazz and ballet,” Kay-Ann explains. “Dancehall or even Soca wasn’t considered in the same league as those styles and although I knew how to do this beautiful Caribbean dance, people didn’t have the same respect for it.”
In high school Kay-Ann realized that she wanted to be able to implement more elements of Dancehall and Soca style dancing into her lifestyle. Kay-Ann attended the Central Technical School in Toronto during her teenage years and participated in many of their talent shows while she was there. Alongside her crew of dancers, Kay-Ann became exclusive to in school performances, becoming very involved in choreographing performances and cultivating her love of dance.
After graduation, Kay-Ann attended George Brown college, studying social work and going on to work in the field for almost seven years. While working in social work was a great career path, her heart and soul was in dance. In order to satiate the rhythm and movement forged in her blood, Kay-Ann started taking dance classes. “At first, I was attending hip-hop classes dancing and training in this mainstream art form,” Kay-Ann explains, “I soon realized that the Caribbean flavour was more in my blood, I wanted to connect more with my cultural roots and share with the world this dance that I grew up with.”
Kay-Ann continued taking various dance classes, training vigorously in the hip-hop, jazz, and even ballet art forms to become more familiar with performance standards, but it was a competitive industry. Since she had a late start in her dance career, there weren’t many dance companies looking to work with her.
She knew that she had to take action and use her initiative to figure out her next move. “People weren’t looking to work with me, so I had to figure out what I was going to do about it,” she says. “I realized that the only thing that I could really do was start teaching my own classes; it would give me a way to perform dance my way.”
Kay-Ann began teaching her own Dancehall and Soca classes, because it was something that she loved and enjoyed every much. She wanted to share her appreciation of it with everyone, and she never thought that it would become a business on its own. “It was more or less me empowering and motivating myself, I wasn’t going to sit back and let people over look me.” says Kay-Ann.
Hoping that her art form and style of dance would get noticed, Kay-Ann rented out dance studios, so that she could use the space to teach her own classes. In 2007 she introduced her first classes around Caribana, teaching Soca and Dancehall classes for those who would be playing mass and participating in Toronto’s biggest Caribbean parade during the summer.
“Believe it or not, but my first couple of classes nobody came.” Kay-Ann laughs. “I used to ask my friends to come to my classes, just so there would be bodies in the room.” At the time her marketing resources were limited to the few social media platforms out there, word of mouth and whatever flyers she could pass out. “Over time it picked up, one person came, then another, and from there it grew what it is today. When I started these classes I honestly never thought that it would transition into a business.”
Many of us love to dance, but don’t consider ourselves dancers. The art of dance comes in many different styles and it’s a skill that we hone and refine. Most people are born with the capacity to perform basic movement and as the music moves through you, your body takes on a mind of its own; the contemporary fluid movement of the body that is the result is known as dance.
Dance programs emphasize fun and fitness while stressing the importance of proper dance technique. The world has become so open minded when it comes to the different styles of dance that each one is now respected as a technique to be utilized, remixed and transformed into a performance to be owned.
Caribbean Movements by Kay-Ann Ward was created out of her passion and zeal to share Caribbean style dance with the world. Through her program, she offers three signature dance classes that include: Dancehall Heat, Socalicious and Wickedest Wine. Each class offers something different and they are meant to be explored by everyone interested in coming out and for a good sweat and a great time.
Attending a Caribbean Movements class taught by Kay-Ann is a liberating experience. It is about connecting with your body, learning what it can do and allowing it to do what it wants. The class accommodates everyone whether you have dance experience or not, and all choreography is broken down step by step, so by the end of the class you’ve learned an entire routine.
In addition to her own classes Kay-Ann is the co-founder of a dance program called UnRuly Gyal created with her business partner Jen Nova who shares her love of Caribbean dance and empowering women. It is a Caribbean dance lifestyle brand geared towards women, that allows them to get in touch with their sensual side. This dance program allows women to both train and perform Dancehall and Soca with the added opportunity to be able to perform for an audience what they have learned.
Regardless of where you are from dancing is in your blood. Kay-Ann’s teaching style is one that encourages her students and participants to learn, let go and have fun. She ensures that the environment is one that is safe and supportive to everyone that attends her classes and workshops. She makes sure that everyone leaves feeling good and accomplished, even though they are sweating and will feel the burn the next day.
“When I started these classes, my biggest challenge was earning the respect for Caribbean style as a serious art form.” Kay-Ann recalls. “Another challenge I faced was believing in myself, I sometimes allowed the opinions of others to occupy my mental space and get to me. I haven’t had the guidance I needed to get this idea up and running. Everything I have done up until this point is the result of trial and error learning what works and what doesn’t.”
Looking toward the future, Kay-Ann is looking to increase her confidence and take this business venture to the next level. “All of my classes offer a fun, high energy and exciting atmosphere, everyone is friendly and I teach the classes so that everyone can learn at their own level.” says Kay-Ann catering to everyone who attends, and accommodating every skill level accordingly.
“This is my culture, with every class I feel like I’m giving these people something that I have been blessed with and I need to share.” Kay-Ann emphasised. “These classes offer a great environment to learn, to work out and overall there is nothing like this in the city it’s something that you have to experience yourself.”