Shocked and disappointed that the country of limbo and calypso did not promote its culture more, two-time Guinness World Record holder for limbo dancing, Shemika Campbell, hopes to do what she can for the artform while she is here on vacation.
“I see that there isn’t really limbo here in TT so I want to change that. This is something TT should be absolutely proud of but instead we focus more on other things.”
Therefore, Campbell hosted her first limbo class at the Curepe Scherzando panyard on November 24 with the next tentative date on December 15. There were 15 people in attendance whose ages ranged from six to 63. She said many of them saw her videos on the internet and had been following her career for some time, for which she was grateful. The 26-year-old limbo dancer said they were all excited to learn and were appreciative of her guidance.
However, none of it would have happened if not for a coincidence.
The Caribbean Extravaganza Steel Drum Band, a family band that travelled the world performing Caribbean music, was looking for a new limbo dancer when musician Cyril Diaz, the father of the band’s founder, died. Campbell’s mother, Sherrie Pierre, sang at the funeral and the band members were amazed by her voice. Even though they were not looking for a singer, they asked her to join the band and taught her limbo as well.
About two years later, when she was eight, her father and siblings left their home in Maraval to live with Pierre in Buffalo, New York, where the band was based. She said she always loved singing and dancing and would often perform at family occasions with her cousins. So when she went to NY, she joined a visual performing arts school where she was exposed to other forms of dance including ballet and contemporary.
“I grew up always liking to perform so when I come up to Buffalo, the family band was still performing around Buffalo and I would support them and join in the limbo contests (for children after each performance), and that’s when I really discovered my love for limbo.”
She recalled that when she was 14, she trained for six weeks for a one-off performance with the band at the Florida State Fair. Afterward, she asked her third cousin, Robert Diaz, affectionately known as Uncle Bob, if he was impressed. Instead of answering, he challenged her to limbo under some beer bottles 8.5 inches off the floor. Although not cleanly executed, she did it. He recognised her talent and started training her to be a part of the band as a limbo dancer. She also pestered him to teach her the keyboard and to sing and is a solid member of the band.
“When he saw how fast I was able to develop the skill and be able to limbo like that he was like, ‘We can’t let this go to waste.’”
Campbell trained and performed with the band for four years and, at age 18, the morning talk show, Live! with Regis and Kelly, hosted an annual Guinness World Record Breaker Week. The show contacted the band asking for her to perform and without touching the bar or her back touching the floor, she set the Guinness World Record for lowest height for a bar at 8.5 inches.
She became a minor celebrity, appearing on the news and on different talk shows, promoting Buffalo and TT. Then in 2011, she performed on America’s Got Talent and gained national exposure. Since then she continues to perform with the band, usually in the summer, and in winter does a number of NBA, WNBA, college and university basketball half-time performances.
In 2017, a video of her doing the limbo under a vehicle at a car dealership holding two trays of drinks went viral and she was proclaimed the Limbo Queen. The video even caught the attention of comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres who invited her to perform on her show.
Then, in 2016, she set her second Guinness World Record in Beijing for the farthest distance under 12 inches at ten feet and three inches. Unfortunately, that record came with some negative consequences. Firstly, conformations came in late which allowed her only two weeks to train for the event.
“I had to be up at nine that morning (to go to the studio) and I was not able to do my record until 3 am the next day. Of course, when you’re limbo-ing that low you can not just eat anything because they (the producers) could literally call you to do the record at time… So I could not eat throughout the whole day, the studio was extremely cold because they had their equipment and all sorts of things, so from that I ended up tearing my MCL (medial collateral ligament) because I was not able to warm up my body properly.”
At first she thought it was a usual knee pain so she iced and soaked her knees, took pain killers, and worked through the pain. She admitted that, in general, it was physically demanding with regular stretching for flexibility, a lot of cardio, limbo exercises she and Uncle Bob created to condition her body, strengthen her knees, abdominals, thighs, back, and ankles. And pain and inflammation was not uncommon.
However, when the swelling and pain continued for weeks, she went to see a doctor and had to undergo physical therapy for six months in which she could not limbo. “There was so much damage… That was the most devastating part of my life because I do not know life without limbo at all. I know I can’t limbo forever but I didn’t know I would have to do it that soon or possibly think, ‘What is my next move?’”
“I never wanted to do anything other than that and I would never change it… It was never something I was forced into, they were never behind me saying I had to practice. I was always the one to push up myself.”
Since her recuperation, she decided that her next move would be to set another Guinness World Record in limbo. She believed she became the first person to limbo under a vehicle in 2015 but it was not an official Guinness World Record so she was working towards it.
She also wanted to travel the world more. She has already been to Amsterdam, Italy, Germany, Beijing, and Hong Kong because of limbo, and Paris for her honeymoon after her marriage to her manager, Brandon Campbell, on April 11.
“I really just want to share the art of limbo. I feel like limbo is not really respected as an artform. All over the world people know it as something fun, if they know it at all. But I really want it to be respected as a big part of our culture, something that takes skill, something that takes a lot of practice, something that is important to us.”