By Carol Bishop-Gwyn
Barbadian Megan Navarro (2010) has a passion to teach the joy and love of dance to children. Seven years after returning to her Caribbean island, she has recently established her own dance school, PowerHouse Studios in Bridgetown.
Megan’s early education benefitted from the demanding British-based Barbadian curriculum, and attending the Ursuline Convent. She went on to graduate from Barbados Community College with an associate degree in mathematics and physics. Along with acquiring a solid academic background, she studied ballet, and completed all levels of RAD Graded and Vocational Graded examinations. Only 18 years old, she then traveled alone to Toronto to continue her dance education.
She spent six years in Toronto honing her performance abilities and acquiring her teaching qualifications. After she graduated with honours in 2007 from the Teacher Training Program at Canada’s National Ballet School, having won the Carol Chadwick Award for most promising teacher, she moved on to The School of Toronto Dance Theatre to complete the three-year Professional Training Program.
Aware for the first time of the practice of contemporary dance, Navarro was introduced at the School to a range of dance styles, as well as the experience of working with some of Canada’s top choreographers. Watching different artists including Christopher House, Allen Kaeja, and William Yong, in the midst of creation, allowed her to recognize that there are many different strategies in crafting dance pieces. With her classmates, she also participated in the new production of Quebec choreographer Ginette Laurin’s creation En Dedans for the 2010 Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa.
She made friends during her years in Toronto, including with other Caribbean students such as Megan Rose Navarro, a previously unknown cousin from Trinidad, who in an amazing coincidence enrolled at the School the very same year as she did.
Returning to Barbados in January 2011, Navarro took every opportunity to dance – winning two gold medals for performance and three silver medals for choreography at the annual National Independence Festival for the Creative Arts; starring in a dance extravaganza during the tourist high season; and performing in a celebration of Barbados’ 50th Anniversary of Independence, with Britain’s Prince Harry in attendance. She taught ballet at one of the island’s Royal Academy of Dance ballet studios, as well as teaching classes in several local academic schools.
With a fresh perspective after several years away from her island, Navarro observed that Bajan ballet classes were focused primarily on passing the RAD exams. Ballet had become just another stress element aimed at being the best, in the student’s life already filled with extracurricular activities. Navarro wants to help children, and especially teens, find release and joy in dancing in the same way she had done as a young girl.
She tested out her ideas with summer dance camps. Recognizing the popularity of day camps in Toronto, in 2009 Navarro rented a studio and introduced annual July dance camps for children from ages six to eleven. She banned all electronics in the classes, including cell phones, and concentrated on giving her campers the opportunity to explore movement and creativity. The five-hours-a-day program was packed with activities, and resulted in a grand performance at the end of the camp session. Her students called her Auntie Megan. She also offered three-hour daily Dance Intensives in ballet and contemporary dance for teens. By the end of the July summer camp, after putting in ten-hour days, Navarro was ready for the August break.
The popularity of these summer camps convinced Megan that her alternative approach to dance classes was needed. In September 2017, she opened the doors of her own school, offering ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, African, break-dancing, acro (combining classical dance techniques with precision acrobatic elements), aerial yoga (known as silks), plus yoga and stretch classes for adults. Megan herself teaches the ballet, contemporary dance, and aerial silks classes, and has hired specialists for the other classes. For a nominal rental fee, she provides space for disabled dancer classes, and is proud that her studio is wheelchair accessible.
Taking a calculated financial risk, Megan rented a space previously used for teaching martial arts. She invested in a wooden (basket-weave) sprung floor, mirrors, and barres. All the materials had to be imported onto the island. The dance studio features posters including a rare one of a young Alicia Alonso, the Cuban prima ballerina who founded the Caribbean’s only professional ballet company (Ballet Nacional de Cuba) in 1955. Navarro has chosen posters from the School of TDT showcasing male and female dancers, to reinforce the concept that it’s okay for boys to like dance. She has ballet and B-Boy classes just for boys. The aerial yoga silks rigged up in the ceiling in a range of Caribbean blues and greens add a colourful touch to the studio.
The initial enrollment exceeded her expectations. With her brochures listing classes already in circulation, Navarro suddenly found herself without the aerial silks teacher. With typical Megan tenacity and courage, she researched to find a training program, borrowed money, and flew to Thailand to take the intensive U.L.U. Aerial Yoga Teacher Training course. She began by scheduling three silks classes per week, but within a month, the demand upped it to eight.
While Navarro has the expertise to teach the rigorous Royal Academy of Dance curriculum, she finds her greatest satisfaction in introducing a love of dance to younger children. Her purpose is to provide a stress-free, fun environment. Bursting into the studio yelling out “Hi, Auntie Megan”, these littlest ballet dance students learn the basics through fun and games. By drawing symbols such as stars and moons, or batman and superman in the case of the boys, on their inner heels, they all produce first position when she asks them to put their heels together and show her their symbols. Voilà – perfect turnout.
To Megan Navarro, dance is therapy meant to express and promote healing and joy. “That’s the goal of my school,” says Navarro. Canada’s National Ballet School got it right when they chose Megan Navarro as the most promising teacher of her graduating class.
Photos courtesy of Megan Navarro.