Rhea’s heart is onstage
Name: Rhea Henry
Education: Queen’s College; University of the West Indies, Cave Hill; and Goldsmiths, University of London.
Qualifications: BA in French with psychology (Honours); MA in musical theatre; and Royal Academy of Dance Grade 8 ballet.
Occupation: Performing artist.
Who is Rhea Henry?
Rhea is a performing artist with her eyes set on making her mark in the theatre world and music industry; a classically trained dancer and dynamic storyteller.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about telling stories, and social enterprise.
I really enjoy live performances, whether I am a part of it or in the audience. I love to tell stories in song and dance, and love the process of inhabiting a character. The stage is where I come alive. I cannot explain it in its entirety.
Once I become open to the entire process, it usually just happens! There’s nothing like it; no experience can compare. I have a photographic memory; so this works well for me in dance. I also have a vivid imagination and can hear rhythms well; so this is a plus when building a character or improvising.
Social enterprise sounds fancy; but it really just focuses on maintaining social value –– through innovative solutions. I came across this term in 2007 and since then I have always been
intrigued by it.
How long have you been dancing and when did the interest for the art begin?
I started dancing when I was nine years old. I remember always dancing in front of the mirror and doing “port de bras” (a ballet term for carriage of the arms). I couldn’t stop doing it! Then one day I told my mum I wanted to go to ballet.
I had never been exposed previously to any kind of dance, but once I stepped into Elizabeth’s Bailey’s class, I fell in love and always looked forward to my ballet class every Friday
afternoon at 2:30!
What has the journey been like as a dancer, and how has it added to your personal and career development?
Dance has opened many doors for me and has provided opportunities for me to travel throughout the Caribbean, New York and South Africa. At one point, I was thinking about quitting dance, but that changed after my friend Dana invited me to a Praise Academy Of Dance Barbados’ rehearsal; they were indeed a godsend.
I started teaching first and then became a member of the Praise Family. There I learned a lot about Christian principles and using this gift of dance to touch lives in a meaningful way. Dave and Marcia Weekes were great leaders who helped us to live limitless lives as creative people. Dance taught me about boldness and charisma!
In addition, I learnt all the fundamentals of performance as a dancer, so as I transitioned into theatre; it wasn’t so difficult. One of my most memorable moments had to be in 2011 where I had the chance to work with some renowned choreographers and ballet masters at The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York City; it helped me transition into a more disciplined and dedicated performing artist.
Share with us your experiences in France and the Mozambique and South Africa tour.
I lived in Normandie, France, during my gap year. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after UWI and I was tired of school; so I decided to take the chance to be an assistante etrangere (a foreign teaching assistant). I only worked 13 hours a week; so during my free time, I travelled around Europe soaking up the cultures around me. I also made some really great friends.
The South African/Mozambique tour was a dream come true! I had made it to Africa immediately after living in France. I had no idea that would happen so quickly, but when I heard that Praise Academy was going on tour with Speak Life, I jumped in because I had to be a part of that!
We visited schools, orphanages and churches in Pretoria and Mozambique. It was life-changing to travel and do what I loved with my friends. It was also there that I met other company members from Praise Academy Jamaica for the first time.
Having been a dancer for so many years, have you performed at NIFCA and have you won any awards?
For sure! I participated in NIFCA on different occasions with The Dance Place, Praise Academy and as a soloist. In 2010 and 2011, three of my choreographies all received bronze awards and a Best Newcomer title.
You are a dance tutor. Was the transition from student to tutor difficult and do you teach all techniques and all age groups?
Well! I began teaching some time back while I was very much a student, but the transition was never difficult. My mother is a great educator; so I think I inherited some talent in that area. However, the challenges do come in other forms, whether in developing appropriate methodology or understanding the varying needs of students.
I am currently on staff at Pearl’s Dance Academy where I teach ballet at the junior level. I also teach junior modern dance technique at Covenant Life Teaching Centre Dance School, and at the Barbados Community College I teach music, movement and self-awareness to first year dancers.
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
I don’t think I ever want to be an animal . . . but I like the view from the top; so I’d go with an eagle.
Why did you pursue a degree in French and Psychology?
I did French as my first degree because it was the other subject apart from dance that I really loved and was good at. I did the psychology because I didn’t want to double major in French, and Spanish and management lectures were not exciting; so I made that switch from management to psychology in my second year.
How have you been able to use your French and Psychology in your career?
Languages always come in handy in client services. I was able to use my French while working for the Barbados Tourism Authority and the Barbados Port Inc. Apart from that, multilingualism will always work in your favour; and I know for sure that in the European Union’s view, it’s an important element in Europe’s competitiveness.
One of the objectives of the EU’s language policy is that every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue. Furthermore, the ability to easily access a different language and dialect will make you more marketable as professional. Psychology studies have definitely been useful as a teacher.
Tell us about your days as a national swimmer and the success you had?
Like dance, one day I decided that I wanted to learn how to swim. I think I nagged my dad for an entire year before he took me to my first lesson at age seven. Rico Reece was the swimming coach who spotted my talent and encouraged my dad to allow me to join Alpha Swim Club.
When my coach Leslie Lam came from Cuba to Barbados, that’s when I began to take it more seriously. It meant training every morning before and after school and we only had Wednesday evening and Sundays off. Swimming was a big part of me. I learned to like discipline –– I think that’s why I never had a problem with ballet!
I also learned how to lose graciously; winning never became an obsession, but to this day I still love to win!
I was a freestyle and butterfly sprinter. My pet events were 100 metres freestyle and 200 butterfly. I participated in meets such as CARIFTA, Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships (CISC) and the Central American And Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation (CCCAN) and won gold at my first CARIFTA Championships in the 100 metres freestyle. I had a couple national records in that event as well.
What three songs would you encourage everyone to listen to?
1. Happy by Pharrell. Not just because it’s got some serious groove . . . but because happiness is choice; and this track can get you off to a good start!
2. Everything Is Everything by Lauryn Hill. I grew up on Lauryn. Her music is timeless.
3. Amazing Grace. Those words go deep.
What inspired you to pursue a Master’s in the performing arts, and why Britain?
I wanted to test London out as I had heard about the arts scene there and the many opportunities for artistes. I wanted to see for myself. I always knew that if I had done a Master’s degree, it would be in the performing arts. I also wanted to learn more about musicals.
During my time there I landed an internship at Company Of Angels, a company that fosters and produces challenging theatre for and with young people and the adults in their lives. They nurture the next generation of artists and bring plays, artists and ideas from Europe. They also engage with a range of artistic forms within and beyond theatre making.
I later produced a musical that played in Waterloo East Theatre and Tristan Bates. Before graduating I also auditioned throughout London to improve my audition technique and had the privilege of meeting other performers.
I was also a part of a dance film initiative, and successfully wrote an EP (extended play) album –– R&B/Soul. The EP is yet to be remixed and mastered –– something that I am looking into at the moment.
In November last year, to my surprise, I got shortlisted to be a part of MTV’s Brand New Unsigned 2014 competition. I am always looking for opportunities to get better and to write –– including for films.
Was it beneficial living and studying in Britain, and did it shape your perspective of life and the arts and added to your personal and career development?
Studying and living in Britain has definitely shaped my perspective on being an artist. Having studied there has shown me that it is possible and that I should pursue it. It has also exposed me to industry standards and creative networks. I also pretty much like the way the British operate. They are casual, yet precise. So a 5 p m meeting is really 5 p m and possibly over drinks.
Many may not know that you are an artist and a singer. Share with us your singing experience.
Just like dance and swimming, I had always loved singing. My mother is a musician; so I grew up around music and lived in a music-making environment. I sang a lot and wrote songs privately, as I didn’t want anybody to know –– I guess that was because it was a very personal way of expressing myself.
I used to get so afraid when singing in front of people that my voice would close up instantly. One day I just decided that I wanted to conquer the fear and started singing at any chance that came my way.
I did some open mic events and even did vocal lessons and background vocals. The more I sang, people would complement me and inquire about my own music! I also had to sing for several auditions when applying to study and when job-hunting.
It was in 2012 that I really decided to discover the music inside of me. I have since had the chance to work with some upcoming producers in Britain and gained experience and received advice from important figures in the music industry.
Dance, singing, sports, languages. What about film, drama and acting?
Acting is something that I have grown to love. This year I got the chance to work with Step By Step Productions and Hall-e-Wood Productions in HUSH onstage and Keeping Up With The Joneses respectively. It’s really nice to know that there is a film industry that is budding here. I’m really happy about that.
How do you remain focused and committed to your goals, given all the distractions around?
More than anything, I want to be in purpose. Being talented is not enough; it takes more than talent to really go places. My journey thus far has required a lot of prayer, faith and risk-taking. I know that the path I have chosen is a precarious one, but every day I wake up I have drive.
I recently heard someone say that in fulfilling dreams “you will always have to fight fear, take risks and deal with change”. This has been my reality.
I try really hard not to compare myself with other people. It’s really dangerous to do this. I try to focus on where I am and the then next small step that I need to make.
Who has contributed to your success?
Family. Also my friend Aisha and my mentor Dianne Squires. Mentors are really important, in my opinion.
Can performing and theatre arts contribute to national development, and how?
Certainly, performance is a great way to mobilize a community –– to get people into discussion about a particular issue. I have always been amazed at how dance draws a crowd. I think youth have a lot to say and should use their skills in theatre arts to engage, bring awareness and provide solutions to issues.
What advice would you give to parents as it relates to the performing arts, languages, or even sports?
Exposing your child to sports and the performing arts can be beneficial. These activities force them to find confidence and they learn how to be a team player from a young age. Opportunities to study and work can also arise.
Companies don’t always look at qualifications as the benchmark for suitability; they are also looking at what makes you unique, and whether or not you can grow with them.
Which is your favourite? Dance, acting, theatre, singing, languages?
I don’t have a favourite. They all make me who I am. However, in terms of acting, the scope is greater here. I’ll probably get to access all my gifts at one stage or another . . . and go to work in my pajamas!
(Today’s Future is produced by C2JFoundation Inc. in partnership with Barbados TODAY. If you wish to contact any of the professionals being highlighted, please send your request to email@example.com)