Cherisa Simmons was on her toes doing what she loves at age five. By age 12, she was benefitting from professional tutoring so that she could formally start the journey of becoming the best dancer she could be.
“Having possessed the natural talents for the art motivated me to take [it] on at a more serious level. In addition, my aunt, Alicia Edwards, who is also very prominent in the arts here in Barbados, was a driving force behind my success as a dancer. I like to dance to all types of music genres,” she told Bajan Vibes.
The professional dancer said: “Locally, I am influenced by persons such as Jennifer Sealy, John Hunte, Gene Carson and my previous ballet tutor Stefanie Takei-Taylor. Internationally, I love and adore the passion, and the drive Katherine Dunham had. I am also intrigued by Alvin Ailey and Leston Horton’s technique as well.”
The 28-year-old, who just completed her first year of study in Fine Arts (Dance) at the Barbados Community College (BCC), admits that it has not been an easy road. However, she is determined to own a successful dance company where she is in a position to pass on knowledge of the art and her experiences. Cherisa also intends to give back, not only to her community but to surrounding communities as well.
“Dance worldwide, not just in Barbados, is a very hard field to make an actual living from. When we look at the hours, efforts and dedication dancers put into perfecting their techniques for audiences, one would wonder why do we even bother. I didn’t choose dance, dance chose me. I do it because I have an indescribable love for the art. I have tried many times to choose a different path, but I always wind back up here.
“I create some of my own dance moves all the time… and for no reason at all. Sometimes, I would be minding my own business and a song would play (maybe even an advertisement with a nice tempo) and I would start to create… Sometimes a song doesn’t even have to play and I would be creating and choreographing and putting steps together.”
Cherisa has accomplished a lot throughout her dance career thus far, especially in her “younger” days. To date, she considers her major accomplishment was last year when she choreographed a dance for her friend and performing artiste, Lead Pipe to his hit Sometime. She performed at both Soca Monarch semifinals and finals.
But long before that, she was performing on a number of stages across the country.
“I was asked before, in 2015, by Mistah Dale to work with him that year for the season. But I was not quite confident enough in myself back then and so I decided to hand it over to my then dance group coordinator. I graced the NIFCA stage the first year as a solo artist. I won bronze and the award for the Most Promising Newcomer. The following two years, I entered in duets in which I won silver for both and a scholarship to the Barbados Dance Theatre. All the moves were choreographed by Alicia Edwards. I also entered NIFCA with Dancin’ Africa Juniors which was my associated dance group at the time along with the Deighton Griffith Secondary School Dance Group. I have danced at Cohobblopot, Cavalcades and Baje to the World, just to name a few. Then, to top all that, I’m always giving back to my community,” Cherisa said.
Despite her accomplishments, there are still some goals the dancer wants to achieve. “I need to stop saying I can’t and instead just try to push harder and continuously work towards whatever it is that might have been challenging at the time. I have a bad tendency of not pushing myself hard enough and seeing my own full potential. I also must come out of my ‘comfort zone’ and try new things as I improve my technique in all genres of dance.”
Cherisa is hoping that one day dance and the arts sector on a whole can get the respect and credit that is rightfully due. For her, much more can be done by both the Government and the private sector.
“The dance industry in Barbados is not well supported, especially financially. It is already challenging to maintain one well-being using what we are paid for performing or accompanying acts, let alone having to use it to invest in perfecting our craft, be it for classes, a new costume or for transportation to get to and/or from a rehearsal venue or for medical expenses that may be incurred to nurse an injury.”
She added: “It would be nice if the Government and corporate Barbados could realize the impact that the Arts can have when used for educational purposes, entertainment, health purposes and so much more. What is even more remarkable is to see that during this pandemic (COVID-19) these same artistes are giving so freely of their time and energy and so passionately.”
But even with all the factors that help to make the journey a bit more challenging, Cherisa is encouraging others not to give up if they dream of a career in dancing.
“If you are not passionate about it, don’t do it! And if you’re serious, then give it everything you’ve got. Many times people have this misconceived idea that dance is an easy art; but it really isn’t. Even for someone who has been doing the art for so long, I am constantly learning new concepts and ways of doing things as it pertains to dance. It is a never-ending process. There is always something to learn. Don’t do it for the fame, and if you’re doing it for the fortune forget about it one time.”
Cherisa said if not dance she would be a teacher since she loves children and everything that embodies child care. To unwind she listens to her favourite music on maximum volume, among other things.
“I also like to binge watch some of my favourite TV shows or catch up on some that I may have missed. I always love, love the beach, reading and spending time in the kitchen. To be honest, dancing is actually very therapeutic and helps me unwind.”
But nothing compares to time spent with family, especially her No.1 love, her son Levi. “I love spending time with my family. That is my all-time favourite pastime. My aunts and little sister are my best friends; but most of all and not to sound cliché, my son Levi is my rock. He is the driving force behind everything Cherisa.” (IMC)