M. Soledad Sklate interviewed teacher Sheila Anozier about her teaching philosophy and what teaching at Cumbe means to her. Sheila teaches Afro-Caribbean Dance and Movement every Monday from 6:00-7:30pm.
Article by M. Soledad Sklate.
Q: What is your teaching philosophy?
A: Dance is spiritual. It’s a place to celebrate, to question, to surrender, and if you allow it, a divine way to connect with yourself, others, and with a higher power. Everything – your gifts and flaws, happiness and anger, lessons learned and yet to be learned – unite to reaffirm that you are perfect as you are. My goal is to have every student recognize that, and rejoice through movement and through the ability to have mind, body, and soul join forces in this way.
Q: You teach a class called Afro-Caribbean Dance and Movement at Cumbe. What is the special focus in your classes?
A: I am Haitian by heritage, and on the other hand, I love fusion. So I fuse who I am with other influences that have inspired me along the way.
Q: Why that name for the class? Why “Dance and Movement?”
A: My teacher and mentor is the beautiful Pat Hall. I’ve had the honor of studying with her for many many years, and I have now the pleasure of being a part of her legacy. She’s helped tremendously in my maturing as a dancer and as a teacher. “Dance and Movement” has been the title of Pat’s class for many years, which she currently teaches at Mark Morris. When the class at Cumbe was passed from her to me, the title remained the same. I think of the title as part of her trademark (for lack of a better word).
Q: What dances and movements can somebody who takes your class expect to learn?
A: Dancers from all levels can expect to learn movements from Africa and its diaspora. The dance is coupled with fantastic live music played by talented musicians to help guide us along.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching Afro-Caribbean Dance and Movement?
A: The most rewarding aspect is definitely seeing the smiles on my students’ faces while they are dancing, or as they are leaving. And also witnessing the progress they make over a period of time from coming to class regularly. There is also tremendous satisfaction in honoring the ancestors by continuing the tradition of dance.
Q: How did you become a dancer?
A: I was in college working on getting my journalism degree. In addition to my full course load, I was the editor of the campus paper, and working a job in order to pay for school. Even though I’ve always loved dancing, stress was my reason for seeking it out as a form of release, and to help me deal with all my responsibilities. My university offered dance instruction in a more formal program, and in this way, dance soon became my favorite “responsibility.” I did graduate with a journalism degree, and worked in the field for many years, but it wasn’t until one specific visit back to Haiti that my inspiration and desire to put dance in the forefront solidified.
Q: What were the challenges and rewards in your journey to become a dancer?
A: The biggest challenge for me is that I am still somehow uncomfortable to rely on dance for financial survival. At this point, I have lots of experience in the world of dance, but I know there is so much more to learn and so many more influences yet to penetrate my little world. That permanent growth is rewarding. The greatest reward, however, is the joy that comes from dance and the opportunity to share that joy with others.
Q: How is your life as an artist outside of the teaching? How does your artistic career differ from your teaching career? Or do the teaching and the artistry go together? Do you complement each other?
A: My life outside of being an artist is more art. I’m drawn to all forms of it. For me the teaching and the artistry of dance are the same. One is just an extension of the other.
About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.