Students Join Caribbean Dance


From a seat facing Monty Thompson's Caribbean dance class at
The Yard, it is easy to distinguish the students from the
members of the Caribbean Dance Company. They are separated by
degrees of flexibility, of confidence versus hesitance - the
difference between being on the beat or a fraction of a step

After a time, however, three girls emerge as occupants of an
undefined middle ground. During warm-up they stand in the front
row, a spot others look to for guidance; but then Mr. Thompson
corrects them - an adjustment of stance or rotation of hip.
Before the end-of-class routine, they show a confused classmate
the proper move; during the routine there are moments when one
of them missteps, pauses and then falls back into the rhythm.

The impression of these three - Marissa Schoenfeld, Lily
Morris and Emme Brown - is one of arms and legs, elastic in
their exaggerated movements. Their faces are blank, their focus
intense and interior. They demonstrate control of body and
movement that most people cannot imagine. They are Islanders and
they are dancers and they are good.

So good - and, perhaps more importantly, so dedicated - that
they will join the Caribbean Dance Company during its
performances tonight and tomorrow night at the Martha's Vineyard
Performing Arts Center. To learn the style of dance and their
part in the routine, they have been taking classes with Mr.
Thompson, the company's artistic director, since last Tuesday.

At 18, Marissa is the oldest; she'll be a freshman next year
at American University, where she plans to minor in dance. Lily,
14, is entering her freshman year of high school and Emme, 13,
is in the eighth grade. They've all been dancing long enough
that "how long" is a question difficult to answer. Despite the
years of training, however many they are, none of them had
encountered Caribbean dance before this summer.

Perhaps the best way to describe the style is through Mr.
Thompson's directions, shouted over the beat of drums: "Don't
control the steps. Loose! Everything is crazy and wild - the way
you look, everything."

The in-class routine involves the swinging and pumping of
arms, a marching step, turning and jumping in a move evocative
of a sunburst. It is something entirely new, challenging,
exhausting and exciting. Marissa, Lily and Emme welcome all of

"It's fun to do a new type of dance, especially on Island,
where there isn't as much variety," says Marissa during a break
between class and rehearsal. She crosses her legs and hugs her
knees to her chest.

"Fun, but definitely hard," Lily says.

"We have no cultural dance here. We have ballet and hip hop,
tap, modern - the basics," Emme says. "So it's rewarding to be
doing something new."

"The rehearsals are tiring," Lily says. They have been at
The Yard from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day since July 3. "As you
get tired, the amount you can take diminishes. It reaches a
point each day, when you can't learn anymore."

She considers what she has just said, then adds, "Working
with them is interesting, and seeing them dance makes you want
to push yourself harder and do better."

"All my dance teachers on the Island are amazing," Marissa
says. "But the company members can explain what it's like to be
a professional. The hours, the travel, being a part of a

"Some of the dancers are around my age, and they've been so
nice, helpful and understanding -"

"They've been so patient with me," Lily breaks in. "So
patient. We're in a dance with them - Marissa and I - that they
knew before. And they had to keep showing us over and over." She
hides her face in her arms and laughs. They all do.

Marissa and Lily are part of one routine, a mechanical dance
in which they play voodoo dolls; Emme participates in a
different one, more of a loose shuffle, as she puts it. She is
supposed to be a watcher, hidden inside a haystack and making
sure things are all right. But one dance each, they agree, is

"We couldn't be in more than one," Lily says. "The moves
might seem simple, but there's a certain way you have to do it
to complete a vision. The dances are created out of an idea -"

"You have to get in character," Emme says.

Lily nods. "There's no time to be shy and back in your own
space. You have to put yourself out there."

At this point, Mr. Thompson joins the group. He lived here
22 years ago and says he knew, even then, the Island had
potential and only needed someone to pull it together. "People
don't think locally," he says. He cites Boston and New York as
areas people think more of for breeding professionalism in

"But it's about encouragement," he says, speaking generally
of any interest in dance, and specifically of this opportunity
for the girls. "And sharing. I want to emphasize that. If we sit
down and talk, a lot of things happen for both of us."

Eight dancers initially tried out to join the company on
stage. "But these girls stood out for their ability to come
again and again," he says. "For their persistence. In life,
that's important. If you don't have focus and attention, nothing

Mr. Thompson's philosophy of sharing evidences itself even
in this conversation. He listens, questions and offers advice
and stories. He engages the girls in a dialogue about dancing,
what it means to them and what it has done for them.

Emme confesses to childhood clumsiness, which prompted her
mother to enroll her in ballet class. "Within days," she says,
"I was moving differently."

"Dancing gives you a feeling you can't find anywhere else,"
Lily says.

Marissa says, "It teaches you to deal with what you have,
but also to improve. I'm not flexible - so it's something I've
had to work on, and that translates to other things, like
school. You have to take time and keep trying."

"Discipline," Lily says. "To go and go and not complain -"

"You feel good about it afterward," Emme says.

"Dance class is a place to let go. If you have a bad day,
that stays outside class," says Marissa.

"Sanctuary," says Emme.

Mr. Thompson says, "It is a technique of not living outside
yourself. It comes from within. Everything starts from you. You
must remember, life is movement. No life is death."