Reequal Smith came to Prince Edward Island from her home in the Bahamian islands of New Providence to study dance at Holland College's School of Performing Arts.
Now she herself has become a teacher, owning and running Oshun Dance Studio in Charlottetown — P.E.I.'s only Black-owned dance company, according to the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I.
"I want P.E.I. to really just, you know, soak up my Caribbean style! Just bringing something new to the Island," the 27-year-old said in her lilting Bahamian accent, as she took a break from rehearsal in early December.
"Different music, a bunch of different colours, different rhythms — that's my main goal, just to be able to bring my home to P.E.I."
She and her three dancers were presenting an encore performance of a showcase Smith first mounted in September, called Calypso Secrets. The September outdoor performance sold out and Smith said the audience, as well as many people passing by, were appreciative.
'Be proud of who we are'
Smith said she and a friend didn't know much about P.E.I. before they enrolled in the college's dance program in 2017.
"We decided to take our chances coming to Canada, you know, join the program, and … see what it had to offer," she said. They ended up having an "awesome time" in the program, graduating in 2019.
Since then, Smith said she has been working on building her dance career. About a year ago, she started her own dance troupe, Oshun Dance Studio.
This isn't just something I do for a hobby, but it's something that I love. — Reequal Smith
"I really just wanted to bring more dance awareness to P.E.I.," she said. "I usually don't see much performances happening and due to that I was like, you know what? I want to be able to create an organization or a business or a studio that I can be able to perform and also reach out to a lot of other young local artists like myself so that they can be able to showcase the talents that they have and the same time, be able to bring joy to people."
With help from her brother, she decided on the name Oshun, in honour of an African goddess of beauty, sensuality, strength and fertility.
"I was like wow, that fits the image that I'm looking for, you know? As women I want us to be able to be proud of who we are no matter what shape, what colour, what size, anything, and for us to discover our inner beauty and be able to express that," Smith said.
That celebration carries through in Smith's style of dance — what she calls a fusion of ballet, jazz, funk and hip-hop infused with Afro-Caribbean movement — and she is eager to share it on this Island.
'It's actually beautiful'
In December, Smith was awarded a $2,000 arts grant from the P.E.I. government. She was thrilled, and said she plans to use the money to mount more shows across the Island.
"Just being able to perform honestly is like the biggest thing for me ever," she said. "I want people to feel what I'm feeling — whether I'm sad, happy, angry, ecstatic, all these different feelings. I want to be able to allow that to bounce off of me onto them.
"Whenever I'm performing, it's just me giving my all, my 100 per cent, because I want people to really feel my energy on stage and my presence, and to know that this isn't just something I do for a hobby, but it's something that I love."
Expressing a culture
Oshun dancer Dawn Ward is also from the Bahamas.
"It's actually very nice to be able to express what we can from our culture," Ward said, adding that it is interesting to teach the Caribbean style of dance to Island dancers and see how they interpret it.
She's also excited the company received the arts grant.
"It's actually beautiful that they're looking towards giving some type of appreciation to the arts and also to diversity," Ward said.
"It's one thing to say 'I appreciate the arts community' but it's also a lovely thing to appreciate the diversity in the arts community, especially here in P.E.I."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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