A person’s life story is a tapestry of complexly woven experiences and for Melinda Etienne, 23, dance is the common thread that holds the fabric together. For Etienne, the ability to dance flows as freely as the ability to breathe or walk.
“Dance becomes so much a part of you, you can’t stop thinking about it.
“Everyday you do it, you wake up in the morning and it’s almost like a routine,” she shared with WMN.
As a young girl, Etienne grew increasingly mesmerised by dancers and the way they moved their bodies so she took up dancing as an extracurricular activity as a standard four student of Valencia RC Primary School.
Dedicating most of her after school time to practising, Etienne recalls Latin, ballroom and traditional African folk as being the earliest dance styles she learnt.
“In just observing how the body moved during dance, I realised how beautiful a dancer is.
“Watching someone dance you think…I want to move and be like that.”
Now holding a bachelor of fine arts in the performing arts, with a major in dance from UTT, Etienne is focused on inspiring the next generation of dancers while continuing to expand her profile.
A teacher at the Little Angels Paradise Nursery and Kindergarten in Couva, Etienne founded the Melinda Etienne Dance company in 2019 and launched a clothing line named Inspire Me 868 in 2018.
But starting her own dance company has not only been a career milestone but also a lesson of self-worth.
Despite developing connections, being devoted and securing opportunities to work with the likes of Nailah Blackman, Machel Montano, Lyrikal (Devon Martin) and Blaxx (Dexter Stewart), Etienne found herself being undervalued while being a member of her former dance company.
“I felt like I was putting in my time, energy, money and effort (into my former dance company) but I was not getting anything in return. I wasn’t seeing anything happening.
“So, I pulled away. That dampened my whole viewpoint on dance companies and how they operate.
“That led me to wanting to start my own dance company and I did that.”
Etienne had already put in the groundwork needed to build her name in the local dance fraternity and in recognising her strengths was empowered to make the bold move of starting her company.
Apart from working with a variety of soca artistes, Etienne also represented TT at the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships, and in 2015 travelled to the city of Cali in Colombia to represent TT in ballroom and Latin dance at the World Games.
“There’s nothing a (dance) company can do for me that I can’t do for myself. From the dirt I grew.
“I have faced a lot of obstacles along the way and I will continue to face obstacles.
“I think it’s important for people to know that it’s up to them to overcome life’s obstacles and push forward.”
And aside from using dance as a source of inspiration for many, Etienne is dedicated to motivating others through clothing.
Inspirational quotes sourced from online are the main designs found under Etienne’s Inspire Me 868 brand.
“If people see a jersey saying, 'Smile Today', I want them to think about if they smiled today and take the moment to.
“I want people walking in the street to see the positive words that are designed on my clothing, on someone else, and think about those words.
“I connected a lot with quotes I saw online so I basically wanted to take the initiative to provide that experience for others,” she said.
Etienne has also blended her personal skin care into her dance and fashion style which led to her being chosen as a brand ambassador for Nuba Caribbean which makes organic skin and hair products.
When she isn’t on the dance floor, you can find her in the garden where she loves planting peppers, seasonings and herbs. Being surrounded by the natural environment and mediating helps her relax.
Further sources of inspiration are moments which allowed Etienne to meet and connect with new people, especially when when they learn she's a dancer.
“It’s funny to see someone’s reaction when I tell them I dance because I think I don’t really look like a dancer and some people do.”
Performing with soca artistes during and outside the Carnival season, while hectic, has also provided Etienne with moments of joy.
In the midst of long rehearsals, which can sometimes go into late hours of the night especially coming down closer to Carnival, Etienne said dancers often find time to have fun and make the process enjoyable.
“Different artistes have different ways they would visualise certain performances, so we as dancers work closely with the artistes,” said Etienne on the collaborative process.
Another shining moment in Etienne’s journey was her 2018 trip to Nigeria where she participated in the country's carnival celebrations.
“The trip was amazing because I got to experience Nigeria’s culture and food.
“I got to see their interpretation of dance which gave new perspective to my interpretation of dance.
“I also got to see a difference in how we (in TT) and they (in Nigeria) do African dance movements.
“It is totally different what we in TT perceive African dance movements to be, to what they do. It was really important for me to be there and witness that to know how to improve my craft.”
During the trip, Etienne also had the opportunity to perform with award-winning Nigerian singer and songwriter Korede Bello.
On working with first-time dancers, as a preschool teacher and choreographer, Etienne said it may or may not be a surprise to many that adults sometimes require a bit more “babying.”
“I think adults care more about what people think when they are dancing but kids couldn't care less.
“It would also be easier to mould kids into dancers rather than when people reach at an older age.
“The kids are very fun and entertaining but older people tend to be a bit shyer when you are teaching them.
“I love to work with children because of their personalities. Getting to experience their personalities just brightens my day.”