La Shaun’s Dance of Faith

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Acts of Faith

“One’s body is, after all, one’s own. It belongs to no one else and what it creates out of its mind and imagination is a source of power”. Rex Nettleford: The Battle for Space 

Faith may be the wrong word; Courage perhaps may be a better word…or even love. They both reveal the truth. Strangely, it is also true that they both do not say enough. There is a volume of doubt that accompanies our existence as artists and constructs obstacles of non-descript form around us- illusions of failure that take on real texture. There are convincing thoughts from our minds that the desire of our lives to create will traps us in nothing more than labyrinths of poor judgment and quixotic quests for meaning. There are the actual thoughts that emerge and  say to us that our decisions to paint, to dance, to draw, to sing or to write will cost us more than we can afford in the end. These are not easy thoughts to abandon and there are times when they hold the mind to ransom in a sort of paralysis. The idea of courage can speak of the determination to continue and love can offer a reason but it is only the idea of faith that reminds us of the cost. It is only the idea of faith that reminds us of the uncertainty that must be overcome and the sacrifice of ourselves to believe that there are possibilities within the void. If nothing else this is what makes La Shaun Prescott so meaningful for our Caribbean space. It is the energy of her dance into that void and her industry of filling it with steps of commitment. She reminds us that there is power in the activity of creating and usefulness in our envisioning.

Who is La Shaun Prescott?

La Shaun is a professional dancer from Trinidad and Tobago. This reality is ironically, of itself, a measure of her triumph. Despite the rich heritage of dance amongst the peoples of the islands, and despite the international renown of forerunners- like Beryl Mac Bernie who enjoyed celebrity as “La Belle Rosette” in the 1940’s New York and Geoffrey Holder who was a prodigious Modern dance choreographer of the 1960’s American scene- the island has failed in many confusing ways to bring dance into its embrace of support through national policy and formal structures of training. Dancers have had to find their own way through this environment sustained only by their love of music and movement and their innate understanding of dance as a liberator of our ideas beyond boundaries and pragmatisms; with their innate sensitivity to the critical function of dance in the progeneration of history, community, culture and balance.Dance has had to find its survival in the homes of the few who shouldered the burden to teach, to create and to work on building better opportunities for the young who, like them, were chosen by this artform.

So to be a professional dancer from Trinidad and Tobago is to talk of a certain mixture of support from others, commitment and passion that is truly a triumph of the environment. La Shaun is product of that mixture who, through her unique style and deliberate choices, has risen to become one of the most consumed Caribbean bodies of our generation. A rise aided by the democratization of technology and her willingness to embrace burgeoning musical forms -which although enjoyed popular appeal among urban youth were not readily in-cooperated into the embattled structures of dance training. It is her support and choreography, between the years 2007 and 2012, of the stage presentations of the Caribbean Soca star Machael Montano which gave the genre a visual presence  making it readily consumable for what would be the explosion of digital and social media usage throughout the region.

La Shaun’s direction and choreography of these stage performances had a profound impact on the aesthetics of the Soca music industry. It became visually translatable in a way that it had not arrived at before. There remained the sensuality and the  bravado as before but something else had been introduced through LaShaun’s dancing body- clinical overlays of movement that somehow also interpreted the natural spontaneity of the festival space. What grew was a vocabulary of motion that amended itself to the flirtatious nature of Soca alongside a pragmatic design for displaying the energy from the streets of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival.  She decoded a moment in time when the contemporary festival seemed most threatened by the loss of the folk and outpaced by the influences of technology and commercialism and responded to it by teaching it how to dance in that moment. By teaching it how to embrace the energy of difference and weave it into its own language. La Shaun’s work on the stages she performed alongside the genre’s most celebrated entertainer became the model for a new generation of Soca performances engineering a wave of replication that now has to be measured on a global reach.

Elle… as in La Shaun 

To her credit it is within that fervor of activity, when she could have just as easily worked on her own career and visibility, that she set out to form ElleNYTT and teach dance in Trinidad. Despite early criticisms and low participation ElleNYTT has grown to be one of the most impactful dance companies in contemporary Trinbagonian culture. The strength of Elle and a factor that has contributed to its broadening appeal has been its open embrace to different styles of dance- with a special regard for the dance practices of the youth. There has been a noticeable regeneration of dance as popular culture in Trinidad and Tobago and Elle can stake some claim to that surge of interest.  Through the diligence of LaShaun, ElleNYTT has over the last few years has grown to be one of the platforms for local youth, with the impulse to dance, to elevate unto the stages of the world. ElleNYTT now caters to classes in Modern dance, Latin, Ballet, Dancehall, Hiphop, Folk and last, but by no means least, Soca. They are in very tangible ways expanding the industry of dance in Trinidad and Tobago- building on the edges of cultural presentations, ritual practices and classical exhibitions. ElleNYTT has contributed to this expansion by harvesting the energy of the dancehalls and of the streets and giving them new life on the platforms of the Caribbean . This just as well might be so considering the legacy on which La Shaun stands and has fully embraced; understanding the need to advance the structures upon which dance can reach out into the community of our lives.

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The Dancer

Beyond all of that the woman herself is enchanting: Attractive in appearance and beautiful to look at. The years of dedication to the exercise of her body are apparent throughout her figure. Her line and form are complexed with an athletic muscularity that is accentuated by full powerful legs and bronzed sculptural formations of calf, thigh and gluteal muscles advancing her femininity. There is an abstract romanticism about the dancing La Shaun that is evocative and transfixing: a balance of softness and power that comes out in the animation of her limbs and leads you to the appreciation that she is a small miracle of energy and motion. Even when the pulse of the music is frenzied and chaotic the sophistication of the artist remains and she twists, turns, bends and weaves with all of the honesty of her human body. See Photographing La Shaun Prescott

En Route 

In 2013 LaShaun exhibited a performance entitled En Route. En route was essentially a conversation about faith, the passage between destinations and the belief that the trials of the moment are no more than the experiences of the moment- antidoted by allegiance to a vision. La Shaun’s career has been an embodiment of those concepts. She is acutely aware of the work that needs to be done and works compassionately towards her goals- having walked away years before from the security of a lucrative position from the government of Trinidad and Tobago to pursue a life in dance. She is very much aware of the costs involved and she demonstrates that understanding at all turns. Through the continued investment in her knowledge bank and the leverage of her charismatic disposition La Shaun reaches out and shares herself… and finds ways to share her with us. In the determination of La Shaun’s cultural value to our society we will find the greatest dividends in understanding the ways she sacrificed for dance and the ways in which she has stepped out in faith towards her vision.  We will lose out when we fail to appreciate that her work benefits us more than it does her. La Shaun through her dance earned the admiration of many  but we need to love her more and we need to corral her closer.  At the end of it all, her vision is the same as those before her who sought the sustained blossoming of Caribbean culture in the garden of human history. Her work is the work of those who believe in the best of us and remind us of the power of our lives.   listen to La Shaun’s Legacy in Dance

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