The history of dance in Bermuda, from colonial-era classes to gombey troupes, hotel ballrooms, ballet and a variety of modern forms, is explored in a new book by award-winning dancer/choreographer Conchita Ming.
Dance Bermuda, released this month, celebrates the history of dance on the island, from the 1700s to today. Ming, a well-known Bermudian dancer and choreographer, explores the art form’s evolution, from British roots to country and folk dancing, the influence of gombeys and military regiments, hotel extravaganzas, and the many schools and individuals that have helped drive the popularity of dance.
“It was a mammoth task,” says Ming, who taught at the Jackson School of Performing Arts for more than 25 years and was a co-founder of the Bermuda Dance Theatre/National Dance Theatre of Bermuda, for which she danced and choreographed.
“Over a 10-year period, I researched dance in Bermuda through the centuries,” she says, “using newspapers and interviews with directors of local dance schools, dance teachers, dancers, dance associations, and more. I was amazed at the richness of Bermuda’s dance history. Bermudians have always loved to dance!”
The 176-page edition, produced by Brimstone Media, traces the development of dance and performing arts in Bermuda, starting in the late 1700s when dance and music teachers were first brought to the island. The 1800s saw a heavy British military influence that encouraged regular theatrical performances, and proved a catalyst for plays, concerts, dance schools and balls organised by both white and black communities in a racially-divided society. Social dancing exploded throughout the 1900s, boosted first by a growing number of hotels that staged ballroom dances and exhibitions, and later myriad dance schools through which instruction became an accepted rite of passage for youth through to the modern era.
Dance Bermuda chronicles these developments in detail, using a wealth of photographs, advertisements, and interviews collected by Ming. Pastel works by Bermudian artist Sharon Wilson, from her series on dancers, are reproduced as illustrative plates introducing each of the book’s 10 chapters.
“I started the project to educate our young people about dancers who had performed in Bermuda over the last half-century,” Ming explains. “I found they knew little about those beyond their own circle. As I started to meet with individuals involved in dance, I realised any book needed to cover a wider range of dance information, including early dance efforts, dance in tourism, our folk dance, dance schools, dance companies, dancers and choreographers.”
Ming was awarded an OBE in 2010 for her work in the community and a Bermuda Arts Council Founders Award in 2013 for contributions to local dance. Several of her works incorporating Bermuda themes have been showcased in the annual Bermuda Festival (1979, 1993, 2004, 2009) and performed in Philadelphia, New York and Trinidad. She has choreographed for various local theatre productions and organisations such as the former Bermuda Department of Tourism, the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs, and Bermuda Regiment Tattoos (2007, 2015).
“Ming’s book, perhaps the first of its kind on the history of dance in Bermuda, is a collector’s item,” notes Ruth Thomas MBE, whom Ming pays tribute to as a cultural icon, with Louise Jackson and Patricia Gray. “It reveals the surprising extent of what has existed in Bermuda in dance through the years,” Thomas writes in the book’s foreword. “That interest has increased in strength. The vast number of children who attend dance classes daily stands as proof.”
Dance Bermuda, supported by the Bank of Bermuda Foundation, the Cultural Legacy Fund Award, the Bermuda Arts Council and the Bermuda Civic Ballet, is available in bookstores and retails for $45.