Justin Poleon is jetting off to Madrid, Spain. The talented 28-year-old has been cast to be part of The Lion King Madrid production. The dancer, choreographer, teacher, coach, and mentor has signed on to a 14-month contract with the play.
“I am super, super happy but I am also absolutely nervous. I am not only going there to represent myself as a dancer I am going to represent all the other dancers, artists, teachers and future dancers. I am doing this to simply say by my actions: ‘it is possible’.”
Justin spoke candidly to Bajan Vibes in an exclusive interview about his journey to this point in his career. He also explained how the dream job all came about.
“I literally stumbled upon the email one day while working with one of my pageant contestants. I saw something saying Lion King Madrid and that they are looking to give me a job offer. I was shocked. I even doubted the authenticity of the email. I came to my laptop, read it and reacted. My mum who outside came in when she heard the commotion and was like ‘Oh My God!’ I kept saying ‘is this real?’ But as I scrolled down, I realized it had all the official artwork and branding on it.”
The NIFCA multi awardee who has been dancing since the age of 17 admitted that being in the production was always something he wanted to do.
“During my last year at school [in Toronto], there was an audition, and I wanted to do it so badly but our school wouldn’t allow us because that wasn’t our priority at the time. I missed that opportunity. I couldn’t miss this one.”
It was in February that Justin eventually got the chance to audition. “I just went to head-on. It was a long process, and I learned so many things. It was a very technical audition. If you did not have ballet training, you would be in trouble.”
Apart from dancing, Justin has also won Flag Person of the Year at Grand Kadooment twice. He had worked with bands Fifth Element, Youth Explosion and Jump with his “dear friend” Renee Radcliffe. Among his NIFCA awards, he also copped Arden Clarke Founder’s Trophy and was nominated for the Prime Minister’s Award on two occasions.
Justin studied ballet at Louise Woodvine Academy, The School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 2011 and has since worked with international choreographers such as Massimo Agostinelli, Kate Alton, Paul-Andre Fortier, Danny Grossman, Christopher House, James Kudelka, Coralee McLaren, Julia Sasso, and Darryl Tracy.
In June 2014, Justin graduated as Valedictorian of his senior year class. That year, he was invited to work with Patrick Parson’s company, Ballet Creole, and had his debut performance with the company at Dance Immersion’s ‘Celebrating Our Men In Dance’.
But Justin’s journey to this place, which he describes as his greatest accomplishment to date, was anything but easy. Like most students studying overseas, away from the base of family and friends and faced with the reality of financial challenges, Justin’s years studying in Canada were some of the most trying times he faced.
“My journey was a super rewarding one. But it was also one that was really, really difficult. I had no scholarships so my parents funded everything completely. Help also came from family members to make the dream really become a reality.
“You are dancing eight to nine hours a day, six to eight days a week. During my last year at school, I wasn’t able to pay my tuition. That, in itself, is a testament to my journey and how much this accomplishment really means to me. I know what it is like to go to school sometimes and feel as if everything else around you is crumbling and falling apart. You are being called in the office and being sent letters about being behind on your tuition payment. I had the choice – do I go to school this week and pay tuition or do I eat?” an emotional Justin told Bajan Vibes.
“My parents [Patricia and Sylvester Poleon] really wanted my dream to stay alive, and they have sacrificed so much to make it happen and I absolutely owe everything to them. They are my rock and my pillar. My family as a whole was there for and supported me through everything.”
The crowning moment of the three years of blood, sweat, and tears was when his mum Patricia came to his graduation. “I smiled so broadly knowing she was there to see that and to see me perform. I had the lead solo part. I bawled my eyes out when I got to perform for her. Our class received a standing ovation. That was the perfect culmination to a journey that was filled with highs and lows.”
The former Louis Lynch, Combermere and Lodge School student said there were times he felt like quitting, not just school but his dance career as a whole, but something kept him going. “I love it and it is my passion and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Justin’s other love is working with pageants. He coaches his clients in speech, poise, talent, etc. He makes recommendations for their gown designs and general look. Justin also does make-up and hair as requested.
He was the official chaperon and choreographer for Miss World Barbados where he got the opportunity to travel to China. He has also worked with Barbados on The Water, Mr & Ms. Barbados Talented Teens, Runway Blitz, Mr & Ms. Barbados Caribbean, Ms. Teen Barbados Universal, Barbados Junior Prince and Princes, Ms. World Barbados and all major school pageants.
“I love to win. Oh my God, when it comes to pageantry I am so competitive. It feels good when that sash and crown go onto the head of a contestant I am working with. I jump up and I cry. I feel so emotional because I feel like it’s my responsibility. I take them on as my kids; they come to my home. They become part of my family, they sit in my chairs, they eat my food. They call at 1 and 2 a.m. and ask for advice. It’s that kind of stuff that gives me my greatest satisfaction.”
His team, close friends and family surprised him on Sunday with a farewell get together. They used rehearsals for the upcoming CPL tournament to make it happen.
“I was a wreck. I cried the majority of the time. The things they said about me. They were singing Circle of Life.”
Justin has a clear vision not only for himself but for the local dance industry as well. “I would love to see a Barbadian dance company developed here of about ten or so people who would tour and teach. They can take our culture to the world and at the same time, they are exposed to other dances and cultures and bring what they have learned back home. Trinidad does it, Jamaica does it, why can’t we?
“We have the talent here. But it is not taken seriously. People treat it as a hobby. We need to give the kids hope of wanting a career in dance.
He continued: “I would like to be an ambassador where I get to travel a little bit, do a little work; come back, teach a little bit and give back, even do workshops, shows, etc. It would be a constant exchange where things are growing. We get inputs from all over the world making our industry more vibrant, alive, exciting and colorful.” (IMC)