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Calls for performing arts centre in the west

Published:Thursday | November 22, 2018 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera
First Dance Studios Circus Circus dancers dressed and ready to rumble.
The young members of The First Dance Studios.
An acrobaic dancer for the studio.
A litle ballerina gets ready for her grand performance next week.
Supporters of the centre says it will go a long way in developing young talent.


As Montego Bay's First Dance Studios gears up to stage its annual Christmas concert in two weeks, there are renewed calls for the establishment of a world-class performing-arts centre for western Jamaica.

The six-year-old studio founded by sisters Jody-Marie Hussey and Sheri-Lee Smith, will stage its annual concert dubbed Circus Circus at the Iberostar Suites in Rose Hall on the weekend of Saturday, December 8, and Sunday, December 9, to showcase performances by children of various ages.

Tapping into the conversation, cultural and creative industries expert Dr Deborah Hickling, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner said the importance of establishing high-quality performing-arts centres in major cities like Montego Bay, and other municipalities across the island in order to capitalise on the multimillion-dollar industry cannot be overemphasised.

"Having appropriate performing spaces in any municipality or large town is important because usually, they are more densely populated. Therefore, there is greater need for entertainment and recreational activities, both commercial and for people who are involved in that sort of activity; for other developmental reasons; for festivals or any of those activities," Hickling said.

According to her, performing-arts centres are part of the developmental process as art and artistry have always been part of the process for any nation that wants to consider itself civilised.

Hickling added that establishing a performing-arts centre would offer Montego Bay the opportunity to diversify its economy and its entertainment offerings for residents and tourists alike.

"That is a way of increasing the economy of Montego Bay, and it is a way of increasing recreational activity in all the parishes in the west because people will come from Hanover, people will come from Trelawny, people will come from as far as Westmoreland," she said.

First Dance Studios offers classes to children of all ages in dance, music, acting, modelling and gymnastics, which are taught at levels suitable for participants in a safe, fun, and creative atmosphere. Since its inception, the entity has not only contributed to the development of young children within St James but has also represented Jamaica internationally, copping numerous awards in the process.

For Hussey and Smith, since the inception of First Dance, the goal has always been to build a centre for the arts in western Jamaica to expand their current offerings, add to the cultural retention and provide development opportunities for future employment in the arts for youngsters in the region, among other things.

Like Hickling, a centre of this nature, they argue, could serve as a revenue earner for the region and a catalyst for economic growth, impacting tourism, social development, and cultural retention, among other areas. As a consequence, the sisters have launched campaigns via social media and other avenues in order to accomplish their goal.

"We are confident that there will be a paradigm shift in western Jamaica and that persons - public-and private-sector officials, as well as the public will see the benefit of the arts to the community and will understand and align with the vision we wish to bring to life," said Smith.

"Countries in the First World have already adapted to this concept, which is working very well for their communities. Outside of the physical, cognitive, and social development aspects, dance and the arts form a multibillion-dollar industry waiting for Jamaica to tap into," she continued.

First Dance has a long list of accolades, having taken back to Jamaica, a total of 15 medals from the World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood, California, in dance, modelling, music and drama and amassing 19 medals and three trophies in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Dance Competition.

More than 240 children have been impacted by its summer programme in the past six years. And together, the Hussey-Smith duo conducts a weekly dance programme serving 96 students from 15 schools in western Jamaica and offers 10 scholarships to students each year.