…dancing helps you to bond more with people and learn to work more with them.”
LINDA GRIFFITH, often called “Teacher Linda”, is one of Guyana’s most qualified dance instructors, having gained extensive training and experience in the field of dance. She loves dancing, and has been doing it for as long as she can remember.
She is now Director of Dance at the National School of Dance, in the National Park, Thomas Lands in Georgetown. Here, she has been teaching dance since 1975, and is the company’s chief choreographer.
In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Teacher Linda recalled that Lavinia Williams took her and a colleague, Pamela Moseley, under her wings, and tutored them. Williams was an American woman who taught dance in Haiti for a number of years, after which she came to Guyana to join in the inaugural CARIFESTA celebrations in 1972.
Then President Forbes Burnham invited Williams to return to Guyana to start a dance company. She came in 1973, and conducted a three-month workshop with teachers, among them Teacher Linda. Williams was a ballerina who specialized in African dance
In 1974, Williams started a school at the Umana Yana in Kingston, and the following year, Linda started a training programme with Williams, after graduating from the Teachers Training College.
‘I love dancing’
Linda grew up in West Ruimveldt Housing Scheme, Georgetown, and attended Ascension Primary School before moving on to East Ruimveldt Secondary. After obtaining her basic education, she pursued her two-year stint at the Teachers’ Training College.
Growing up, she was also an athlete, and specialized in long-distance running. She always knew she wanted to teach, though, and she loved dancing. Her father, Henry Griffith, now deceased, was a ballroom dancer, and also specialized in and long distance running.
“He used to teach me. Sometimes at home, I used to see him dancing with my mother. He made me join the library at a very early age, and (he) used to bring home books on dance, and I would read them,” Linda recalls about her father.
In school, they used to have the plaiting of the May Pole, but Linda was never selected because she was considered not tall enough. This would, however, not prevent her from going to look at the children practising in school. “I used to practise with my brothers and sisters. So on weekends, we would tie up strings on a pole in the yard, call our neighbours over, and I would teach them.”
Linda started her formal training at age 19, even though she used to dance in groups while in secondary school and at home. “I have been trained in classical, modern, African, Indian dance…years of training. I love African dance and classical, dance on the whole.
“I just love to see people dance, because it brings so much out of you. It helps you to be a stronger person; to be a more cooperative person, because in dance, you have to work with people and you have to learn to synchronize to get it right. So that helps you to bond more with people and learn to work more with them.”
Linda firmly believes that the person who dances lives very much longer than the person who lives a sedentary lifestyle.
Our traditional dances
“I expect full commitment from my students; a very high level of discipline and performance. I also expect them to appreciate other dancers and teachers, and other styles, particularly our traditional Guyanese dances.
“That’s very important, because, sometimes we find everyone looks at the television to accept all that is there, but if you go out of the country, people look to see what you bring; they are looking for something else. So we need to appreciate what we have; our traditional dances,” Linda said.
She recalled what one of her colleagues, Phillip Mc Clintock, said in this regard. Phillip was an Afro-Guyanese who specialized in Indian dance, having done four years of training in India. “I did a lot of work with him and a couple of dance teachers who came from India. I remember Phillip saying that people are always fascinated with Guyanese dancers because of the way they move, and it’s the influence of Indian dance that is fused with our African dance and our other techniques that we merge.
In 1991, while on a six-week dance training stint with various teachers in the USA, Linda won an award at the American Dance Festival. Her distinct style of dancing had everyone asking where was she from.
“It’s fascinating, Indian dance! I would learn the music, and if I don’t know what it means in Hindi, I would get someone to translate. The movements are so fascinating that even if they are not used just for Indian dance, we fuse it, do variations on it, using Indian influenced music also. It makes you move in a different way.”
Linda explained that her regular challenge is getting students to come to classes according to their scheduled time. “Our education system is of such that parents are sending their children to academic lessons. So you don’t get them to come to classes on schedule. Education, of course, takes priority. “That would keep some of them back, in the sense that they would take longer to develop and mature as a dancer.”
On the positive side, though, Linda is fascinated when she sees a dancer whom she would have trained blooming. “I love to work primarily with persons who have no training. We are paid as public servants, but the money is not so good. But I still do it (teach dancing) for the love of it and the contribution that you can make to your country.”
She explained that there are 15 classes at the dance school, including one for adults. “We have different age groups. It’s structured just like a normal school. It’s just that we work in the afternoons. Depending on how old the person is, we fit them in a class. It’s free to enroll. Everything is Government-funded.”
According to her, the programme lasts for two years, after which the students are evaluated and promoted to another class. They also have their outreach programme, going into different regions and conducting workshops.
“The idea is to set up dance schools in all of the regions within the next five years,” Linda disclosed.
The dance school would usually liaise with the Ministry of Education so that it can share in various workshops and training programmes.
By Telesha Ramnarine