"Dance making is a central and essential part of cultural heritage and retention"
Trinidad and Tobago native, Candace Thompson is a dancer, choreographer and entrepreneur. She is the beauty and brains behind CanDanceFit, Artistic Director of ContempoCaribe, Founding Executive Director of Dance Caribbean Collective in Brooklyn, NY, and the powerhouse behind the New Traditions Dance Festival, a 3-night dance festival produced by Dance Caribbean Collective (DCC), in honor of Caribbean-American Heritage Month in the United States.
"Our goal is to center dance making as an essential part of cultural heritage and retention and to support dancers, choreographers and practitioners that are leading the charge." - Dance Caribbean Collective
As Founding Executive Director of the DCC, Candace is facilitating connections and collaboration between Caribbean artists, creating spaces for Caribbean diaspora audiences and students to connect to Caribbean contemporary and traditional dance, and cultivating the platform for the wider public and dance community to connect to Caribbean culture.
One such platform is New Traditions Dance Festival, and it is thriving! The festival began as a one night event in 2015, and because of packed houses for the show, they expanded to a 2-night event in 2016, and 3 nights this year. Each night of the festival, choreographers and dancers of Caribbean heritage come together to perform Caribbean contemporary dances that explore Caribbean identities, stories and collective experiences. A full pre-festival season of public events including talks, dance classes, film screenings etc lead up the festival performance weekend. Their signature collaborative show for 2017 titled, “Our Caribbean Spirit,” explored how movement from various island cultures, told the story of Caribbean resilience and exuberance.
Through the Dance Caribbean Collective, Candace captures the essence of collaboration that we value and love! Collaboration is the cornerstone of the COLLECTIVE. Long-time supporters, performers, and collaborators come together to make this engine work!
We caught up with Candace to learn more about her work and why she works to highlight Dance in the Caribbean Diaspora.
What does it mean to be good for the Caribbean?
Being good for the Caribbean means giving back. It means giving back to your community and to your family members and honoring their investment to you in some way.
What does the word ethical mean to you?
It means being able to sleep at night, treating others the way you want to be treated, and being transparent and honoring your word.
How have you seen the Caribbean Diaspora change in the US since you’ve been in the United States?
Our way of life is more mainstream now. When I first came here 12 years ago, it seemed that nobody (or few people) knew about the Caribbean or its people. Now there are a lot more references in the mainstream and I think it means a lot to people from the Caribbean here.
What is it like being a member of the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States?
There are a lot of second generation individuals (from the Caribbean) who need mentors and they need people they can look up to. They need to know the sky's the limit and that their background is something that can work for them. Those getting out of school need someone to give them direction. Our youth company is lucky to work with these young people because they’re so hungry for this knowledge.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for the Caribbean now?
I don’t live in the Caribbean anymore, but I feel like Trinidad has developed so much as far as access to technology and resources and it seems that we are working on achieving first world status, however, in that journey we’ve lost some of the connections between each other. With more resources, we also have different problems like more waste. it seems like we’re going backward. We need to find more ways to be efficient now that we have more.
How has being from the Caribbean helped your career (in terms of connections, work ethic, etc)?
It has helped me on a very personal level. Because I left my family in Trinidad, I had to have drive and focus to succeed.
What are you working on now?
Mostly running Dance Caribbean Collective and preparing for The New Traditions festival.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
I want to see the New Traditions Festival become global...in Miami, Boston, DC. If I could pull it together in New Work then someone could do it in Miami. That would be my goal to have this festival across the globe and country in the next 5 years.
What have been your biggest struggles in your career and/or life? How have you overcome or attempted to overcome them?
Because we are not a mainstream culture, we are constantly having to prove our value as Caribbean people, dancers, or choreographers and then trying to get people on board with our culture. I see this with the festival every year! Once the people are in the theater they’re hooked, but getting them in there is so much work. After the show, new attendees come up saying how amazing the festival is and how inspired they are. They say “you guys are so talented with what you do.” But its been an ongoing challenge in my career to have people know my worth without having to prove it.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
The fact that the New Traditions Festival keeps going and getting bigger and better is a huge accomplishment for me. The first year we had one night, the second we had two, and this year we have a company from Canada here, three nights, more people for production and the Brooklyn Arts Center is funding us.
It seems as though the Caribbean sometimes get’s shown in a negative light. Why do you think that is and how do you think we should change that?
Caribbean people are not as involved as we could be. We're often silent. We should all become advocates. For example, it seems like all of our carnivals are getting shut down or changing in their nature because we are not visible. We need to be more vocal and visible and show how we are contributing positively to our communities, so that we can have more of an impact and can create our own narratives and stories.
Why did you start Dance Caribbean Collective?
I wanted DCC to galvanize people to have something Caribbean people can show off to the public- Caribbean contemporary and traditional dance. I want others to know that we (Caribbean dancers) are a force to be reckoned with. There are so many talented dancers of Caribbean heritage here, and many of them are involved in this, not just me!
How can people make an impact on the Caribbean diaspora?
Regardless of what people are involved in (art, music, math, or tech), we can unite and collaborate so we have the resources available to advance. That’s the best way to start making an impact - through collaboration. Making an impact is about making alliances with each other while we are here. For example, I'd love to see New Traditions expand, I'm in NY and you're in DC. You are more connected to resources and communities there in DC. In order to have a broader impact why not collaborate to try to advance the initiative? Any initiative for that matter. We need to know how to find community in new places because these connections are vital for sustainability, fundraising and sending money to support development back home.
How can others get involved in your work?
Check out the Dance Caribbean Collective website: http://dancecaribbeancollective.org, Follow us on social media and sign up for our events!
Candace, thank you for all you do for dance in the Caribbean Diaspora!
About the good for the Caribbean Series:
We're featuring the good in the Caribbean! Click here for our features on Caribbean individuals who are making waves in the Diaspora.
Do you know a person, group or organization that represents what it means to be good for the Caribbean? We'd love to feature them!
About the Dance Caribbean Collective:
DCC is an organisation dedicated to facilitating Caribbean Dance works, performances and cultural experiences in the Caribbean Diaspora with a focus on Brooklyn, NY. It is run by (DCC) Lead Artists who lead and design the programming, workshops and performances, and the (DCC) Powerhouse that does the behind the scenes administration.
As part of our mission, we produce performances, hold public classes and community events, develop educational programming and provide online resources for both artists and audiences. We work collectively to create space for connection, community building and learning, centered around Caribbean Dance and culture.