Caribbean Aesthetics: Learn About Kieron Sargeant’s World of Dance – Part Two
by Lou-Ann Jordan Sep 18, 2023
Labels have their uses. They help categorise things and people. Yet, when applied to the latter, they can be limiting because sometimes they offer a vague impression of all encapsulated within. Such is the case with Kieron Sargeant. Trinidadian-born and based in the US, Kieron, as we learnt in part one of this interview, is a dancer, choreographer, and scholar. But his body of work, passion, and knowledge of dance eclipse such descriptions.
In our last feature, invited into his world of dance, we learnt of his beginnings in dance and his motivations to step into choreography. He also spoke of his dedication to dance education and academic research. Now, lean into part two of his enlightening interview. We’ll delve into his contributions to dance education in Trinidad and Tobago and chat about African Caribbean and African dance in greater detail. Additionally, an educator at heart, he takes us on a tour of the African continent, expertly discussing the various dance styles.
Tell us about the Kieron Sargeant Dance and Dance Education Foundation. What do you hope to achieve with its establishment?
The Kieron Sargeant Dance and Dance Education Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago is a platform I founded to nurture creativity, inspire environments, and empower artists/dancers in Trinidad and Tobago. Through this foundation, I strive to provide resources, opportunities, and support for dancers to thrive in their artistic endeavours, enhance their technical and creative skills, and contribute to the growth of the arts industry in our country. The goal is to create a sustainable ecosystem that fosters artistic excellence, cultural preservation, and community engagement. As it continues to develop, my hope is that we cultivate a vibrant dance community, foster collaborations, and elevate the visibility and impact of Trinidad and Tobago’s dance scene both locally and internationally.
What has been the most significant highlight of your dance career thus far?
It’s the opportunity to share my artistic work and research on international stages and platforms. By presenting my choreographic works and engaging in scholarly discussions with diverse audiences, I can connect with artists, scholars, and audiences worldwide, sparking meaningful dialogues and deepening my understanding of the global dance community. These experiences have expanded my artistic network and enriched my creative process, fueling further exploration and growth in my artistic practice.
When dancing or choreographing a dance, what inspires you?
My inspiration stems from various sources, including personal experiences, cultural heritage, social issues, and the diverse communities with which I engage. I find inspiration in the resilience of the African diaspora, the vibrancy of Caribbean culture, and the power of dance as a form of expression and communication. Music, visual arts, history, and literature also serve as wellsprings of inspiration, infusing my creative process with rich layers of meaning and aesthetic exploration. Ultimately, the collective spirit and stories of the people fuel my passion for creating and sharing meaningful dance experiences.
Do you have a particular style of dance that you favour?
As an artist committed to exploring the diverse movement practices of the African diaspora, I do not have a particular style of dance that I favour over others. Instead, I draw inspiration from various traditions and seek to synthesise and reimagine them within my own artistic voice. By embracing the multiplicity of dance styles and traditions, I can create work that is dynamic, innovative, and representative of the rich tapestry of African diasporic dance.
Are the African dances a blend of styles from different parts of the continent or a specific regional style? Please elaborate.
African dances are incredibly diverse, reflecting the vibrant mosaic of cultures and traditions across the continent. They are not a homogenous entity but rather a complex tapestry of regional styles that vary in movement, rhythm, aesthetics, and cultural significance. Each style is deeply rooted in its region’s specific historical, geographic, and cultural context, resulting in a rich array of dance traditions.
For example, from West Africa, we find dances like Sabar and Adowa, characterised by their dynamic movements, intricate footwork, and expressive gestures. These dances carry the cultural essence of communities such as the Wolof people in Senegal and the Akan people in Ghana, respectively. On the other hand, Central African dances such as Soukous and Makossa are known for their energetic and rhythmic qualities, reflecting the vibrant musical traditions of countries like Congo and Cameroon.
In Southern Africa, dances like Gumboot and Pantsula showcase this region’s unique styles and rhythms. The Gumboot dance originated in the mining communities of South Africa, with performers using their boots as percussive instruments to create intricate rhythms. Pantsula, though, emerged in the townships of South Africa, blending elements of traditional African dance with urban street dance styles.
In my exploration of African dances, I have specifically examined dance styles from Nigeria and Senegal and their connections to Caribbean dance traditions. It is important to realise that while there may be shared elements or influences, the dances we practice in the Caribbean are not direct replicas of their African counterparts. They have evolved and adapted over time, reflecting the African diaspora’s unique experiences and cultural contexts.https://www.youtube.com/embed/UN39dXkeGhI?feature=oembed
What is one misconception about Afro-Caribbean and African Diaspora dance that you’ve had to address?
I have consistently addressed the perception that the African Caribbean and African Diaspora dance forms are solely for entertainment or superficial movements. While these dances bring joy and entertainment, they have much deeper cultural, historical, and spiritual significance. African Caribbean and African Diaspora dance forms embody narratives of resistance, resilience, identity, and cultural heritage. They serve as powerful tools for storytelling, community building, and healing. It is crucial to move beyond surface-level perceptions and appreciate the profound cultural wealth and complexities that these dances represent.
In the context of Caribbean dance, a specific misconception I have encountered relates to dances like the Limbo, which originated as a funeral wake dance but have been transformed into drinking games by tourists and others. We must reflect on how our ancestral practices are being appropriated and commodified and reclaim the value and significance of our own cultural traditions. Additionally, there is a concerning trend of cultural appropriation and the erasure of Caribbean dance within the international dance scene. Styles like Dancehall, Bachata, Salsa, Rumba, and even Soca are frequently misinterpreted and misappropriated without proper acknowledgement or credit to their Caribbean origins. Our dances, including Soca, are quickly being absorbed into the broader “Afrobeats” genre, resulting in their distinct cultural identity being lost. The term “AfroSoca” has been used to address this, but it is often only recognised within the Caribbean, leaving us at a disadvantage on the international stage. Seeing our dances marginalised and overshadowed is disheartening, especially when we are not given the credit and references due to us as originators and preservers of these dance traditions.
What upcoming project are you most excited about?
I am particularly excited about an interdisciplinary educational project I am currently collaborating on with Caroline Copeland of Hofstra University and Shireen Dickson of Northwestern University. The project aims to highlight the African presence in British and colonial ballroom dance during the era of Ignatius Sancho (1729-1789). Through it, we will delve into the historical, cultural, and artistic dimensions of dance during this period, exploring its links to the African diaspora and its relevance in contemporary contexts. The project involves research, performance, and educational components. It offers a unique opportunity to engage with diverse communities and contribute to the ongoing conversation surrounding antiracism in the arts. I am thrilled to be part of this collaborative endeavour and look forward to the impactful outcomes it will generate.
Stay tuned for our next edition of Caribbean Aesthetics.