For Fana Fraser it all began in her living room.
Fraser, rehearsal director at New York’s Ailey II Dance Company, recalled her childhood memories living in Port of Spain before becoming a dancer.
On Sunday afternoons when it was usually too hot to play outside, Fraser would watch Bollywood movies while her parents were cooking. Growing up without cable TV proved a wonderful experience, as it was one of the factors that led to her flourishing career in dance. Since she only had access to two television channels, she would look at whatever was available. Mesmerised by the music, sounds and colours, she would mimic the character’s movements.
“I was a little quiet when I was young. When I was dancing I was not.” After recognising how expressive she was while performing, her parents decided to send her to the Caribbean School of Dancing. The more she danced and the more classes she took, she knew that this was what she had to do.
“I think being on stage is a very powerful, sharing moment, It’s a very empowering feeling to be on stage and to be seen by people and to know that you can express yourself.” Fraser was a huge fan of Michael Jackson. Her voice rose high-pitched with delight as she recalled, dancing along to his music videos as a child.
After A-levels she attended the Ailey Dance School and Fordham University in New York and graduated from the BFA programme in dance. In 2008, while still in her junior year at Fordham University and at Ailey, she was invited to join the company as a dancer.
“So I was schooling, I was travelling, touring, performing with Ailey II and I was still finishing up my senior year. So I had to do classwork basically on a bus. It was intense but it makes you strong,” she said with a sigh. Fraser is also a certified Gyrotonic trainer. As rehearsal director she works alongside young professionals who are at the beginning of their careers. “I’m enjoying coaching the dancers and teaching them performance techniques, touring and travelling with them.” Teaching keeps her fresh and inspires her to learn and grow with her students. For this reason she admits to equally loving it as much as dance.
Asked what being a teacher has taught her about dance she said, “Dancers are the best thinkers!” She continued, “we’re everything rolled into one. We’re athletes, artist, mathematicians, scientist, physicist. Your brain has to be processing at light speed. Dancers have computer brains!” She says listening and observing are two of her greatest strengths as a dancer. As a performer she says it’s commitment. “I’m definitely working on my stamina.” Her love for dance is what inspires her to continue. “It’s like a slight craziness. I think about it all the time.” She also credits all the people she has worked with as being inspirational to her.
Fraser is also a choreographer. Currently her own work are her favourite pieces to perform. Her dances incorporate theatrical, vocal and acting elements. “From Trinidad everybody has a story that they have to tell. And I think that is definitely beginning to come out in the dances and the performances, that I’m making.”
She describes her work as a one-woman show. They always begin with a story and displays a variety of themes, social and current issues. “I like the costumes, the theatricality of performance and dance. I think there is a direct connection to the mas and Carnival culture that is.”
Although she has shared the stage with numerous dancers, she was unable to pick a favourite—there were too many to name. “I think there are so many people that you dance with when you’re growing up, people that you meet along the way. It’s such a cycle. It makes you appreciate every moment.” As for choreographing for other dancers, she wants to work on herself before she starts creating for other people. In July 2016, Fraser performed some of her solo pieces at Trinidad Theatre Workshop. She has also performed with Camille A, Brown & Dancers, the Metropolitan Opera and many others. As for upcoming projects, Fraser is very excited to be playing in Brooklyn’s West Indian Labor Day Parade with the New Waves, of the Dance and Performance Institute of TT. She is also eagerly working on a solo performance for December and has a dance initiative residency at City University, New York.
Her most memorable moment is was performing on the local talent show 12 and Under on TTT. “Do you remember 12 and Under?” she asked. “I was on 12 and Under when I was 11 and I won in 1988. And the thing was, my friend Kizzy Gibbs had won in 1987 and she gave me the trophy, and then the next year I won.” Another memorable thing is performing her own work at home.
“I enjoyed doing that and hope that it could happen more often.” Fraser also looks forward to returning to Trinidad and collaborating with companies including the Caribbean School of Dancing, Metamorphosis Dance Company and the Dance and Performance Institute. She believes there is room for an art house in Trinidad, a space where people can express themselves through dancing, theatre, sound and visual arts. As for nerves, “Performing by yourself is a little more scary because you don’t really have anyone else, to hug or to say a word with before you go on stage. Deep breaths and meditation always help calm my nerves.”
“I feel my parents have always said to me, ‘Fana, just do your best, work hard and do the best that you can.’ And that is still with me to this day. I work as hard as I can and always try to give and share my best,” she said. She tries to visit her family in Trinidad every year for Christmas and for her nephews birthday. She advises aspiring dancers to dance while they are young and to take as many different classes in different styles and technique. She also stressed practice and research.
“Go find what you like, what you want to do, where you want to be, who you want to dance with. There are places, there are people and there are resources, you just have to seek them out.” She also encourages people to make their own opportunities. She believes creating something from nothing is the whole joy of creative arts. “Dream big, dream on stars. I remember I used to do that. I still do that.”
Her message for Trinidad and Tobago as it celebrates 55 years of independence. “Use the spirit of your ancestors, the resilient spirit that exists within you, to stand for yourself and your country. Create, continue to create.”