• Rachele Viard

Susan Jones: Committed to Showcasing the Traditions and Culture of Grenada through Dance

Updated: Jan 30

Susan Jones, a passionate Grenadian native, has from a young age been committed to the art of dance and music. She sang danced, and performed with many companies and toured the Caribbean, England, USA, Ireland, and Scotland. These opportunities motivated her to pay it forward and open up her own dance company 'Spices'. Over the years, Jones’ dance company has nurtured and technically trained students. Through dance, Jones has also taught them, perseverance, humility, grace, promoted teamwork, and more importantly the value of hard work, community and expression. This year, Spices will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. It is therefore not surprising that as Assistant Chief Cultural Officer with the Ministry of Culture, she develops programs to enhance and preserve both Grenada’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. During an interview with Jones, Caribbean Essence discovered just how dedicated she is in preserving and promoting Grenada’s folk dances.

Photos provided by Susan Jones

CE: You share that your journey in the arts started as a teacher, you were given the responsibility for the dance and choir group in your school. Did you at this point have a passion for dance?

SJ: It’s as far back as I can remember. I always had a passion for the performing arts, especially dance. I love the freedom it gave me to express myself and shows my creativity. It also can encapsulate both voice and body.

CE: How were you able to handle such a responsibility at such a young age?

SJ: My passion, level of commitment, discipline, and my excitement to create and teach others enabled me to handle my responsibilities.

CE: What genre of dance did you teach?

SJ: I choreographed, danced and taught gospel, modern, calypso, Latin and of course folk dances.

CE:What lessons beyond dance skills and techniques do you want to teach your students?

SJ: I believe that incorporating the soft skills with dance skills and techniques make children and young persons’ well rounded individuals who will make a meaningful contribution to their communities, country and the world.

CE: What genre of dance is your favourite and why?

SJ: Folk dances are my favorite because the drums resonate with me. It is my heartbeat and I identify it with the strength and endurance of my ancestors. It was woven into the very fabric of their being, just like me. As a people we must embrace where we came from, the pioneers who paved the way and what makes us who we are as Caribbean people.

CE: Is or was anyone in your family involved in the arts, choir or dance as well?

SJ: There are persons in my family who are in choirs and the theatre.

CE: What was it like growing up in Grenada, are there any specific dances or music germane to Grenada?

SJ: I attended both Primary and Secondary school both in Grenada and in the Bahamas. My parents instilled in me at a very early age the value of Education. The value of discipline, hard work, commitment, perseverance and a deep faith in God.

I was taught to believe in myself, and try to fulfill my dreams, never settling for mediocrity. My love for Folk music and dance was introduced to me in Primary school. I love to listen to storytelling about our Folk characters, sing Folk and Traditional National songs and dance our Folk Dances. I experienced this aspect at school as a student and continued to pass on these traditions as a teacher.

My senses were awakened to Ballet, Modern, Latin and Hip-Hop dances and theatre at Queens College in Nassau Bahamas. At this school the Performing Arts was a priority. There was a production every year and this consolidated the love and passion for the Performing Arts.

These experiences propelled me to teach Dance, Music and Theatre in my Alma-mater, opened ‘Spices Dance Company’, pursue my studies in Dance at the University of the West Indies, with a minor in Cultural Studies and a Masters in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Grenada is known specifically for the jab rhythm, which the conch shell was used first time ever in Jambalasee, a song by Moss International in 1991. We are also known for the Big Dum dance, Quadrille along with string music. Although we share many similarities with other Caribbean brothers and sisters, we have our unique movements in our Bele, Pique, Temne, Chamba, Kelinda, Bongo, and other Folk Dances

CE: In which genre or style of dance can you express yourself the most?

SJ: I perform and choreograph different types of dances, but I am well versed in Grenadian Folk Forms. This type of dance is where I can express myself to a greater extend. The rhythm of the drums speaks to me. I believe that respect and honor should be given to our ancestors. Each dance represents and was used on special occasions, like wakes (Chamba), at harvesting crops (Temnѐ), to show strength by men (Kalinder/Stick fight or Bongo) to teach sexual relationship (Pique) to show-off womanly skills (Belѐ) These dances, ring games and folk songs shaped me into the woman, teacher, chorography and performer I have become.

CE: You established your dance company Spices in 2001, as artistic director and choreographer do you create socially conscious pieces?

SJ: The power of the arts to transform lives is critical. As Artistic Director my chorography has related to protecting children from abuse, especially sexual abuse. I use theatre/ drama or poetry fused with danced on some occasions relating to a fisherman’s story or other socially conscious pieces to address problems and challenges faced by young persons. Such as drug and alcohol abuse.

CE: Before you develop a dance routine, what do you need to determine?

SJ: Before I develop a chorography, I brainstorm, think of movements which must corresponds with the type of dance. I need to determine the reason for the piece. Is it for humor? To educate or to bring about a level of change? I research for the correct music, allow improvisation, add poetry/ narrative, movement phrases, the right dancer (s) find the appropriate costumes and practice, practice, practice. Then I think about the technical aspects.

CE: What inspires you most when creating a choreography?

SJ: How from the development of an idea, to it becoming a reality. How all the pieces fit together. The excitement to see the product, how the dance is executed and the response it gets when it is performed.

CE: How have you given students an opportunity to express who they are through the performing arts?

SJ: Through annual dance concerts and performances at various festivals and competitions. Representing Grenada regionally.

CE: How important do you think it is to continue to share with upcoming generations the traditions of dance and the arts and its importance not just in Grenada but in the Caribbean as a whole?

SJ: I think it is crucial to create that platform for expression of the art form to upcoming generations. The art forms build bridges and connects us as one Caribbean people. We have much more in common that we acknowledge and by continuing to create, express ourselves through the art form we connect on a deeper level. Our traditions, not only dance but on a whole is what makes us unique, it is what makes us Caribbean people.

CE: Who are some dancers or choreographers that you admire and why?

SJ: I admire our Caribbean persons who have paved the way in the art forms. Some of these persons includes Beryl Mc Burnie, Rex Nettleford and Molly Ahye. Other persons include Alvin Alley and Lester Horton.