KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
Heather Henderson Gordon is a name synonymous not just with dance, but also with the contemporary awareness that she has brought to the art form locally. The artistic director and principal at La Danse Caraibe has been instrumental in shaping TT's understanding of dance as a nation and leading the way where many younger dancers have followed, usually with her direct influence.
“My forté is dance, having been introduced to it by my mother at the age of four. My family always had an appreciation for culture and the arts, on both sides. My father’s family had a piano in the living room and his sister loved to dance, so I grew up with this sense of performance and this appreciation for expression in the arts,” Henderson Gordon told WMN. “One of the teachers at Bishops Anstey Junior School would go on to introduce me to the Helen Dunn dance school, which later joined with Marcia Turner Mose to form the Caribbean School of Dance and from there I went on to The Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and then on to The Juilliard School NYC.” After having completed her formal training in the art form, including tours with the Juilliard School across New York State, the Philip McAbee Dance Company and The Ron Roach Dance Company, Gordon choose to return home where the arts, culture and dance were blossoming in the post-colonial era rife with sentiments of independence and self-expression.
“I enjoyed the theatrical aspects of dance tremendously, especially being selected to tour with Juilliard and perform to schools that would never get to enjoy a contemporary dance performance. But it was coming back home that really became something for me,” she recalled. “It was around this time that I started doing work with the Carnival bands and brilliant minds like Peter Minshall who were incorporating dance and other aspects of art in the Carnival presentation. We had a lot of fun working with a number of promoters too at various fetes like having an all-girl dance group for Girl Power fetes at Queen’s Hall or the early days of Amnesia at Pier 1 with my friend, Derek Lewis of Island People,” the icon pointed out. “There was even one fete in Santa Cruz, where they buried one of the dancers in a graveyard-style space and waited for the guests to arrive before they sprung up to everyone’s surprise,” she highlighted. Later on, those experiences and connections would spurn another change in the Carnival industry when she would collaborate on the dance performances for Machel Montano’s mega-hit and music video, Jumbie. The back-up dancers trend had not fully emerged in TT, with most artistes having back-up singers, not dancers. The trend would explode to the surface with that video and the Road March winner’s tour that season across dozens of fetes and performances.
Apart from numerous accolades – from the National Dance Association, COCO Festival, the Patron’s and Board of Queen’s Hall and BWIA’s Flag Women of the Year for Phase II Pan Groove, Henderson Gordon also received an award this year for her contributions to the Woodbrook/St. James community in the area of the arts. Her school, La Danse Caraibe has never shied away from offering scholarships based on talent and a number of her students have gone on to achieve hard-fought-for success – just overseas, including one having their own classes and show in New York. That element of having to travel abroad to succeed is one that continues to cripple many local artistes in all genres here – but is slowly changing. However, the esteemed dancer continues to call for more to be done. “With the governance structure the way it is, we are always told that we need to call on the corporate world for assistance with funding our shows and programmes and to some extent, I agree. What everyone, Government and the corporate sector, needs to see is that arts all over the world is subsidised somewhat. And because many young people don’t see art as a viable form of making a living, we are losing people simply by their choosing another career. And we also need to see the arts as a way of creating success for people from areas that so desperately need it – as an alternative to the gun. A guitar can take you so much further. Arts can help to take people away from those options and in the end, the investment made, one person at a time, can also result in helping to save the country from the ails that cripple it today.”