This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
What do the Bahamas and Prince Edward Island have in common? If you answered sun, sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, you would be correct. They have also dance artist Reequal Smith in common.
Smith, a freelance dancer, choreographer and founder of Oshun Dance Studios in Charlottetown, has made a splash on the dance scene since landing in Prince Edward Island from the Bahamas in 2017. She came to P.E.I. to study dance in the performing arts program at Holland College, graduated in 2019 and decided to take a leap of faith and stay. With a strong desire to perform her unique blend of Bahamian, jazz, contemporary, reggae, modern and calypso styles, she observed that there was an abundance of theatre-based performances around the Island and an opportunity to bring more dance and diverse dance styles to stages. She started her own business teaching classes and creating dance pieces, and then started making connections in the community.
Smith joined the Black Cultural Society of Prince Edward Island, an organization that has co-produced her first three shows including the latest in September, called Journei to Paradise. The society also engages Smith and Oshun Dance for their events.
“We are always looking for performers for some of our events, and we often hire Oshun,” said Tamara Steele, the society’s executive director. “We like to use them. The energy they bring to any event, the energy that Reequal brings to any event is just phenomenal.”
Using her networking and promotional skills, Smith has also been able to secure performances with Prince Edward Island’s DiverseCity Festival, which celebrates diversity and Canadian multiculturalism. She has also performed at the River Clyde Pageant, an annual summer event created and performed by artists and community members intended to draw attention to the history, mythology and environmental issues associated with the Island’s rivers and waterways.
“I was scared in the beginning,” said Smith, explaining that she had to convince these presenters that she could perform and create her own works. “It’s always scary starting your own business thing and trying to figure out if people on the Island would gravitate toward you.”
One of the first shows Smith created was Calypso Secrets in the summer of 2020, which was performed at Rochford Square in The Bog, a place where Black ancestors of Prince Edward Island lived and that she now cherishes.
The name Oshun was chosen with input from Smith’s brother and mother. Beyond the play on words with the Atlantic Ocean, Oshun is an African dance goddess of love, fertility, joy and happiness. “A goddess that basically describes women. That we’re powerful. It’s really about uplifting ourselves as women, being confident with ourselves, our sexuality,” Smith explained, adding, “Most of my pieces gravitate toward that.” In addition to Steele, some of the women Smith proudly works with include Grace Kimpinski, Megan Stewart, Elisha Baptiste, Charlotte Byrne, Callista Gilks and Élan Mackey.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, Smith has faced challenges in her early career: starting a business during a pandemic, facing general barriers to career entry as well as finding studio space. Despite these, she is enjoying life in Canada’s smallest province, and dreaming bigger. She is working to expand her repertoire, hoping one day to have her own studio space with classes that can financially support her performances and thinking about how to bring her work on tours across Canada.
The audience reaction for Oshun Dance performances on the Island may bode well for future touring.
“There is so much love shown to Oshun Dance whenever they perform,” said Steele. “You can see how much [Smith] loves to dance. It’s very evident. She gives a lot of herself to Oshun Dance, and it is often a favourite part of any event, whenever they perform.”
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