Story & Photos by Stan Bishop, SLYOU News Editor
Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy is arguably one of the most recognized dance troupes in Saint Lucia. Many of its students have gone on to become household names through their mesmerizing and inspiring dance moves. On December 14 this year, Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy stepped into another milestone – it turned 30.
The Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy owes its amazing journey primarily to its founder, Barry George, who, at thirteen years old, was determined to make a name for himself after taking up dance at Entrepot Secondary School. He was fortunate to be among a classroom of talented people: singers, dancers, painters, writers. He’s now a metaphor for how dance can change one’s life.
“They’re the ones who inspired me. However, what was unique about the situation was that I had a particular quality that none of them had: demonstrating leadership and being able to mobilize and put things together,” George told me five years ago when I first interviewed him.
Back then, he told me that his ability to harness the students’ talents led to them representing the school in dance and choir. They organized everything with an entertainment element at the school, thanks to school principal, Albert Nathaniel, who encouraged George to keep honing his dance skills.
“Whenever the Department of Culture organized dance training for teachers, he would send me even though I was a student. So that opened up many opportunities for me,” George explained.
From the time he was in Form Two until he graduated in 1991, George led the school’s dance company. Recognizing there would be a void when he left, fellow students encouraged him to continue what he’d started. Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy was the result.
“At the time, I had no direction as far as what to do,” George confessed. “All I was concentrated on was that there was an avenue where young people can come together and express themselves. As the journey continued, we were able to evolve into who we are today.”
George said he studied the techniques of the existing dance companies at the time, such as Charmalion Dancers, Les Enfants Dance Troupe and Christylites Dance Academy, all successful dance companies at the time. He learned their strengths and weaknesses and the reasons why they fell apart. He made a vow to himself that his direction would be different, adopting a constitution to guide the organization’s work.
As founder and artistic director of Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy, where the focus is on dance education and theatre arts, George says the journey has been challenging but rewarding. Achieving an unmatchable standard remains key to the company’s philosophy, he said.
George said he remains proud about the dance company’s strong influence on those who gracefully danced through the blood, sweat and years of the company’s life, adding that the milestone all comes down to the impact made over those years.
Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy’s work has impacted the Saint Lucian arts landscape in many ways, with the dance company performing at major events, including the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival, Saint Lucia Carnival, Independence celebrations, National Arts Festival and during the Christmas season. The dance troupe has also performed overseas, including in Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
George said the dance art form is suffering badly because the school curriculum rarely offers dance to children between 5 and 12 years, leading to a loss of interest. Nevertheless, he said said he endeavours to change that anomaly despite running into a myriad of challenges, including inadequate venue space.
Limited space or not, George said he implores dancers to rise to the challenges and deliver a high quality performance that ranks on par with the world’s best. He also believes that as good as the dance company is, there is still much more it can do had circumstances been better.
George worked closely with the National Youth Council (NYC) from 1995 to 2009. In terms of youth development, he has contributed immensely to pageantry by assisting contestants participating in pageants such as Teen Talent, Miss Independence and National Carnival Queen Pageant. His dancers also feature prominently during the carnival season as back-up dancers to some of the island’s top soca artistes.
In 2015, he was awarded the Saint Lucia Medal of Merit (Silver) for his contribution to culture and the performing arts, considering the medal “a major achievement”.
On performing onstage, George said, “It’s always an amazing feeling because I love the stage. When I’m on stage, I feel invincible and free. Especially knowing that I’ve worked hard to develop my skills, I get that moment to show what I’m capable of. So it’s an amazing feeling, really.”
He adds: “We believe in the Saint Lucian dance product. I mean, for the few times that I’ve performed overseas, I’ve seen Saint Lucian dancers do some amazing things to move audiences that more people in the world need to experience. So we want to showcase more of that.”
Silver Shadow Performing Arts Dance Academy had initially planned a full year of activities for 2020 to celebrate its three decades in dance. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a major challenge and the company was forced to scrap almost everything.
Nevertheless, the company intends to celebrate the milestone through social media platforms and engaging radio and television stations on various aspects of the company. A revamp the company’s website, thanks to sponsorship from the National Community Foundation (NCF), is in the works.
“The major stage activities we had planned will be done in late March 2021 via a virtual format,” George told me. “It will be a four-part dance documentary that will chronicle the journey of Silver Shadow Performing Arts Dance Academy over the past 30 years. The series will also highlight our dancers – past and present – who have contributed to the growth of dance in the diaspora.”
Silver Shadow Performing Arts Academy, which currently boasts 90-plus members, became a number one group at a time when dance was dying out even as people were attending dance shows in droves. According to George, “we came in at a time when things were literally falling apart, so we very instrumental in holding dance together.”
The pandemic has also presented the dance company with other debilitating issues: periodic closures, inadequate funding, and a break-in resulting in equipment and irreplaceable memories being stolen. But all is definitely not lost.
The dance company’s long-term plans includes turning the organization into a formal dance education space. In 2021, George hopes to have enough funding to hire more qualified dance teachers to run more programmes, including certification in the craft. He said that while many students have survived on their talents, certification is important. Silver Shadow currently offers the CSEC dance programme.
George is part of the National Dance Association of Saint Lucia which consists of dance groups across the island. The organization, which is chaired by George, will be launched officially in 2021 and features a stellar cast of dancers on its interim executive.
Aside from his dance and organization skills, George also manages Just Us Kids Carnival Band, which won their first Band of the Year title in Junior Carnival in 2009, going on to win eight more consecutive titles from 2011 to 2018.
After announcing that Just Us Kids would be taking a break by not competing in the 2019 Junior Carnival, George took up the challenge of raising the profile of Junior Carnival with the Saint Lucia Carnival Bands Association. He was already mulling a comeback this year, but COVID-19 thwarted that. George is already making plans for a 2021 comeback.
Speaking on the journey, George noted that as busy as the business gets, the years go by quickly. Having started this journey at a very young age, he’s practically grown up being shaped by it. There were any challenges and setbacks, he admitted, but he still believes more needs to be done for the art form.
“As a young person growing up in dance in Saint Lucia, I never felt Saint Lucia was ready for me,” George said. “I think being in Saint Lucia really stifled me in every sense of the word – from the size of the funding to the kind of facilities we perform in and opportunities for training overseas. It was always a difficult task.”
His advice to anyone who aspires: “Just be persistent, passionate and have a love for what you want to do. Remain focused and never give up. There’s a lot of hard work involved but you need to be prepared for that.”