The world Justin’s stage
Young bajan dancer/choreographer hoping to make it big
Justin Poleon is a young Barbadian artiste on a mission.
The creative dancer has been gracing the domestic stage from the tender age of 16, but his ultimate hope is to make it to stages around the world, wherever his dream takes him.
Speaking to Bajan Vibes from his flat in Toronto, Canada, which he has been calling home for the past three years while pursuing a degree in professional dance at the School Of Toronto Dance Theatre, he recounted how he got started in dance.
Justin, who was visiting Combermere School at the time, remembers peeking into a rehearsal and seeing a stranger, now his close friend Sharisa Simmons, in the process of working on a NIFCA solo piece with her choreographer – her aunt Alicia Edwards.
“She [Edwards] invited me to come on stage, because I had shown a lot of interest just from watching and she was like, ‘Do you know about improv [improvisation]?’ and she invited me to come on stage, to come and like improvise’,” he said.
“. . . After that, I knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. The adrenalin rush and everything that I had felt at that point in time was really remarkable.
“I think that that one moment in time had a lot to do with that fact of my knowing that I wanted to dance, and that feeling of such excitement and exhilaration . . . . It was really interesting and I would definitely say that that was when I knew I wanted to dance,” he told Bajan Vibes.
From there the journey began for Justin, who started out doing Latin and ballroom. He then joined the Louise Woodvine Troupe and the Barbados Dance Theatre before heading off to Canada where he is now at the School Of Toronto Dance Theatre.
Justin told Bajan Vibes it wasn’t a challenging transition for him since “dance genres tend to flow into each other easily”.
Still, his experiences in Canada have been nothing like Barbados.
“I can tell you that for sure in so many ways, especially as far as the arts industry is concerned, and in the field of dance. Everything is just taken a whole lot more seriously [in Canada],” he said, noting that dance there was considered more of a profession.
“It is a career, a thriving career throughout the world, and definitely in Canada. Being here, I’ve been exposed to so much in the dance world, and it has been a great opportunity to experience that at a youthful age.
“One of the major things that makes it so promising also as a career here in Canada is that the government puts a lot of funding and support into the arts, and that is very important because they see the importance of the arts to society and I think that people need to recognize that, especially in Barbados.
“We need to get away from the small-minded concepts that a career is only if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an accountant – and it is really not. There is so much more out there; and dance just happens to be one of them; and if it is that people can’t accept that well then . . . we will never move forward,” he added.
Asked about his professional training degree programme, the young choreographer was very animated, describing it as quite taxing.
“It wasn’t easy in many ways – mentally, emotionally, physically, financially. It has affected every aspect of life. But it is something that I definitely don’t regret. The training has been great; it has been so wonderful; and I think that that has definitely been a big part in the dancer that I am today.
“We are talking of about at least eight hours a day of dancing, and we are talking technique classes, workshops, repertoire; so it is a great programme! If you want to dance, then that is the programme for you.
“They focus so much more on the practical, which I think is really important, because when you go into the audition, your resumé could be spotless with all the degrees and accolades you have; but at the end of the day, they are seeing you dance, they are not seeing you write or stuff like that; so it is really important,” he added.
Justin, who is in the final stages of completing his degree, has plans of returning home in time for Crop Over.
So where does he see this degree taking him in Barbados?
“Right now in Barbados, there is not an avenue for it other than teaching because there are not many full-time performance opportunities for what I want to do and the kind of work that I am interested in,” Justin said.
“[However], I definitely think there is that opportiunity and possibility for persons like me; that our degree is very, very valid and it is worth the world that we have been through,” he said.
“I wish society would be a little bit more open-minded to it.
“Government too would have to put more things in place for opportunities for young people like myself because there are a lot of people . . . who have done great things within dance and the arts . . . . They all end up leaving because there is nothing in Barbados for them, and that just sucks because there is so much great talent that comes out of the country, and it all just leaves and ends up somewhere else where someone else just gets the benefits of it; and I feel that that is such an unfortunate thing for the country, for arts especially,” he lamented.
In the meantime, he is excited about being back home for Crop Over and being able to participate in Grand Kadooment.
“. . . Not only as a dancer/choreographer, I will be a flag person – I will be flagging again,” said Justin who was adjudged Flag Person Of The Year in 2012. He also placed third in that competition last year.
“I will be coming back for the title this year. I do have some stuff in mind, because I do like to think ahead; but we’ll see how that pans out.
“I look forward to something cool and tricky and different,” he told Bajan Vibes, saying he had big plans for the festival this year.
“I will also be home for NIFCA this year [as well], and it definitely has been weighing on my head a bit if to enter or not. But I’m still thinking about it. I have no confirmed answer at all towards that right now because, mainly, I want to rest and give my body and my mind a break and really plan out what is next.
“I do have a couple opportunities available to me. There is the cruise ship opportunity. I would like to go to Germany, Dallas, Texas, Philadelphia; also check out some of the companies that I am interested in; but I just want to rest for now and keep in shape, keep dancing and keep thinking, keep creating, keep being me, being an artiste . . . but I think what is next for Justin is the world is my stage and I am willing to go wherever it may take me.”