WHEN asked, "Why dance?" Shaquille “Turbo” Griffith responded: “Why breathe?” and that sentiment sums up the mentality of the collective now known as the Monk Dancers. For the women, like Achsah Henry from Trinidad, Nandi Yard from Barbados and Michela “Bambai” Hloskova from Slovakia, the answer is that “dance chose them.”
Other dancers are Monk Dancers are Omari “Mars” Anderson, Rene Arneaud, Shaquille “Turbo” Griffith Tichele Ferraz and Andre Arneaud.
“All of us have been dancing for as long as we can remember,” said Henry. “It’s part of who we are, so you can’t really get us without dance. I’ve been dancing since I’m two years old. My mom told me I was shaking and moving in the womb before I even came out. Like Nandi, I can honestly say I didn’t choose dance, dance chose me, so maybe you need to ask my parents.”
For Yard, it was perhaps genetically preordained: “I was told my mother was a dancer in England before I was born,” she recalled, “so I was thrown into dance classes and I kinda knew when every moment I have – whether asleep or awake – I would be dancing or thinking about dance moves in my dreams, or even just walking the street, so it’s like second nature to me.”
Anderson said his reason for dance is more about survival: “I dance because it’s an escape for me. It took me away from the streets. Dance saved my life from a very negative path that I was trying to avoid. I want to make my parents proud and not be a street guy, so I dance to take myself and my life to greater heights and places."
“I tried different activities and dance was the one that could make me happiest,” explained Hloskova, “or drag me away from negative emotions. For some reason, I still have moments where I doubt, but I think it’s part of the process or part of being self-critical. People just started to invite me to shows from a long time ago and then, it just started to grow…”
The Monk Dancers rehearse daily to live up to the high standards demanded by their boss, Machel Montano.
“Machel Montano is a pioneer for soca music,” said Anderson, “so that makes us, by extension, pioneers for soca dance as well. So the more repertoire he builds, the more we have to create as well, so that gives soca a very nice foundation for future generations to stand on – and it’s very good for the culture as well.”
The Monk dancers will show off their skills at Machel Monday on February 25 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, and at Revel at the Queen's Park Oval, Tragarete Road, Woodbrook, on Carnival Friday (March 1).
–Stories and photos courtesy Dougla Matrix Entertainment