Candace Thompson, a Trinidad and Tobago native, is a dancer, choreographer and certified fitness professional specializing in personal training and corrective exercise. She is the beauty and brains behind CanDanceFit, Artistic Director of ContempoCaribe and Founding Executive Director of Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE. Her dance training is extensive, beginning in Trinidad and Tobago, where she received instruction in modern dance and ballet, at La Danse Caraibe under Heather Henderson-Gordon. She is a graduate of Adelphi University’s BFA in Dance with the Ruth St. Denis Award for excellence from the dance department, and has gone on to work in various dance styles including Afro-Caribbean, Classical Modern, Modern/Contemporary, Contemporary Floor Technique, Jazz, Soca and West African. Candace produces her own dance work under two umbrellas: ContempoCaribeandDance Caribbean COLLECTIVE.
ContempoCaribe is a choreography and performance project creating art that embodies the plurality of experiences within the Caribbean Diaspora. ContempoCaribe’s work has been performed at Dance Caribbean Collective’s New Traditions Festival, COCO Dance Festival (Trinidad), Dancing While Black:jumpin fences, Dance Enthusiast’s Moving Caribbean in NYC among others. Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE is a collaborative and organising body, creating platforms for artists developing work from a Caribbean perspective, to show their work within the local diaspora community in NYC. DCC produces a season of events leading up to the annual New Traditions Festival. CanDanceFit, a personal training, corrective exercise and movement instruction entity, serves clients and studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, conveniently bringing holistic fitness, exercise, dance and movement programs to fitness enthusiasts short on time, but big on quality and studios delivering high quality training. CanDanceFit merges the benefits of dance training with fitness and personal training strategies to serve both the average individual and the budding to professional performer.
As a performer, Candace is attracted to dance work that is challenging both physically and emotionally, and is especially motivated to dance the stories of the Caribbean and its Diaspora. Her performing experience spans two regions: Trinidad and Tobago and North America. Other accomplishments include being invited to the inaugural Dancing While Black Fellowship Cohort 2015/2016 and being an honored Alumna for Adelphi University’s 2016/2017 10 Under 10 program for young alumni, who have achieved exceptional career accomplishments before celebrating their 10-year reunion.
CT: I am a dancer, choreographer, personal trainer, artistic and executive director and educator. The idea for DCC started out as a desire to communicate meaningfully with Caribbean Dance artists and for our work to be enjoyed by the Diaspora community. After I choreographed my first solo ‘Of Circles and Bright Colours’ it hit me that I wanted more of my West Indian friends to see it. I put pen to paper on it after a conversation with a few friends and started reaching out to other professionals I thought should be involved. We had our first meeting on April of 2015 and produced our first show that same June.
CT: Artists need time, space and resources to be creative and to interact with other creatives. Fulfilling these needs in a culturally specific and nuturing environment makes a huge difference in the kind of artistic work we make. Artists are the ones who will hold on to our legacies, we are the ones driving our rich culture forward. Despite society’s general regard for our purpose, we are an integral part of Caribbean people’s survival and success.
CT: The short answer is yes. Producing these large scale performances is expensive and our audience can’t (or won’t at this time) pay what it really costs to attend our performances. We are constantly underwriting our artistic endeavours with grant funding, earned income from other sources, charitable contributions and in-kind resources from the other members of the collective.
CT: Trial and error fortunately/unfortunately. There is no tried and true method to sustain an arts organisation. I have worked with and for a lot of other organisations and I’ve seen things that work for one organisation fail in another. You are constantly analysing and shifting practices to find the right groove for your needs.
RB: A big part of what you do is attracting and retaining choreographers to your platform. How do you go about making this sustainable?
CT: Great question. At first I reached out far and wide, trying to make connections with everyone I knew doing something related to Caribbean Dance, with some being super excited and others not really taking me seriously and those that did engage with us did so tentatively as we were all still figuring out what this thing could be. Now, we are about to produce our 3rd season and so most times our reputation precedes us. The artists that have come into the fold most recently have a clear understanding of what we do and how our vision aligns with theirs and their goals. It’s no secret that the ‘work-financial compensation ratio’ in the arts is not balanced, so those who are involved have to motivated by other factors; the need to be in community with other Caribbean artists, to have a built in support system for their work, a marketing team constantly telling their/our story digitally, the opportunity to present work on a proscenium stage, access to other resources including no cost rehearsal space, teaching opportunities etc. We’ve also created other types of opportunities for people who aren’t necessarily members. DCC has an online public calendar called ‘DCC Connections’ where instructors anywhere in North America can add their classes to be listed on the calendar. On any given day you can go to our website and see what Caribbean style classes are being offered. In short we solve problems that caribbean dancers/choreographers need and hope that this encourages them to build with us.
RB: You are promoting Caribbean art in the diaspora, are there any unique challenges you have faced vs say, if you were doing it in the Caribbean?
CT: Getting the attention of Caribbean/Caribbean-American folks and getting them interested and excited about art and performance by our artists. We generally don’t have the kind of budget for marketing that a party or fete promoter will have, so its easy to get drowned out by the other Caribbean events that exist. Not to mention that in general, dance performance is a hard thing to sell. Explaining exactly what we do to people who aren’t familiar with theater or performance can also been difficult. The good news is, that every new supporter we get falls in love with our mission and in turn become evangelists for Caribbean Dance!
RB: As an ambassador of Caribbean culture where do you see the vibrant theatre, dance and music scene of the Caribbean heading in the next few years in NYC where you are based?
CT: I truly believe we are on the brink of a Caribbean renaissance worldwide really. Carnival is spreading like wildfire, dancehall and soca are infiltrating mainstream and this is exciting our community to want to do more. Other island-based organisations are also finding ways to invigorate and educate their diaspora about their history and culture. It’s an exciting time and people are interested in looking back and learning from our history to move forward. I think entities like ours can only stand to grow as the average citizen wants to be a part of the magic of telling and celebrating our story. DCC is doing this especially through the ‘New Traditions Festival 2017: Our Caribbean Spirit’ which goes up on June 16-18 in Brooklyn, NY at the Mark Morris Dance Center.
RB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to create cultural space and community the way you have?
CT: Prioritise people. This organisation would not be possible without its members. Do your homework. You need to know what’s out there so you can build and innovate. Collaborate. Work with other organisations with similar missions to get support for your work and help the field move forward.