The art of dance has existed for centuries, evolving as the world has evolved. It can be enjoyed by young and old, and has become a means of expressing joy, sorrow, love and even political opinions.
Ask any older Caymanian about dancing, and they will probably talk about moving their feet to Radley Gourzong and the Happy Boys playing quadrille music. Then of course there is the familiar soca and reggae dancing that has been around for decades and can be witnessed at bars and clubs on a weekly basis.
From cultural dances to modern, ballet, salsa and jazz; all can be witnessed on the Cayman stage thanks to a number of pioneering people who understood the importance of dance as a form of artistic expression. Kirk Rowe of KRI Performing Arts is fairly new to the local scene, celebrating his company’s fifth anniversary in May. However his personal background in dance is an extensive one and his talent has taken him to countries all over the globe. He is now passing on his knowledge to enthusiastic students that will be featuring in his anniversary show Season of Excellence at the Harquail Theatre, along with members of the National Dance Theatre Company in Jamaica, the largest company in the Caribbean.
Kirk began dancing when he was only five years old. At the age of six he was chosen to audition for Little People, a troupe of young children that trained to perform in Jamaica and elsewhere. His parents recognised the opportunity being offered to him, and happily supported it. By the time he was seven, he was already travelling to New York and Europe. A private tutor accompanied the children on the trips so they could keep up with their school studies.
He stayed with Little People for five years before a number of the dancers decided to branch off and start their own company – the Ashe Performing Arts Ensemble. It became the biggest and most famous dance troupe in Jamaica, and was frequently sent to represent the country at public and private events all over the world. Kirk was the youngest performer in the group, which always brought him some extra attention. He went with Ashe to the UK, Broadway, Lincoln Center and even the White House to perform for Colin Powell. In 1994 they travelled to British Columbia to dance at the Commonwealth Games in front of thousands of people. Kirk was only 12 years old, and realised at that moment that he wanted to pursue dance for the rest of his life and leave sports behind.
When he got back to Jamaica he continued with his dance studies, attending the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts for a couple of years before taking off to Toronto, Canada to dance with Ballet Creole. After three years with the ballet, he went on to the UK to teach at Peckham high school. The transition from dancing to teaching was an easy one. He had grown up assisting others with steps, so in many ways he had been teaching for years.
He enjoyed the experience, and of course the students didn’t mind having dance on their class schedules. It didn’t matter what level of talent they had, they all became interested in learning and Kirk discovered that he had a passion for sharing his love of dancing with others.
When he finally returned to his home country of Jamaica, Kirk decided that he wanted to start his own company so he could continue his teaching, choreography and performing. It wasn’t difficult to establish himself as he was so well-known for his talent and international accolades. His first show was called “Through my eyes” and many of the dance community members came out to see it. The great sense of accomplishment he got from producing a successful event encouraged him to continue. He was invited to go to Miami to assist with a group performing in a festival there. A number of different islands were participating, among them Trinidad and the Cayman Islands. Representatives from both approached him to come and run workshops for them, and he decided to accept the invitation from Cayman’s Dance Unlimited and the National Cultural Foundation. The foundation was taking a group of 30 artists to Scotland and Kirk stepped in to help get them ready.
It seemed that once he arrived here, projects kept presenting themselves, and so he kept extending his stay. He opened KRI Performing Arts in 2007 and began teaching classes in his studio in Industrial Park. He now takes students from as young as three years old all the way to adults who have always been keen to learn but maybe haven’t had the chance until now.
He teaches modern, jazz, hip-hop, salsa and soca dancing six days a week, and although there are specific dance moves that define the style they are learning, Kirk encourages improvisation and freedom of expression from his students. In the past months they have been working very hard to prepare for KRI’s anniversary show, which will be presented over four nights from 24 May to 27 May. Everyone should be encouraged to attend to not only see the level of talent in the Cayman Islands, but to also witness the first class dancing of the visiting National Dance Theatre Company. The company was formed when Jamaica became independent; it is therefore their 50th anniversary this year, so people can expect a particularly spectacular show.
KRI Performing Arts is the culmination of all Kirk’s years of performing and entertaining people around the world. He has seen it grow from a small business into a popular enterprise and hopes one day to pass it on to others who share his love of dance. He still spends time on the stage, but focuses more on teaching with every passing day.
If you are interested in purchasing tickets for Season of Excellence at the Harquail Theatre, or learning more about dance classes at KRI Performing Arts, you can email Kirk directly at [email protected]