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Natorii Illidge prepares to return home after remarkable journey in US

~ Honoured with outstanding student award ~

 

Local dancer and educator Natorii Illidge is preparing to return to her native St. Maarten in October after what she referred to as a “remarkable” journey at Broadway Dance Center (BDC) in New York City.

 

Illidge, who took a hiatus from the classroom as a teacher at St. Dominic Primary, left St. Maarten a year ago to pursue her passion of dance in NYC. She did so well that she was given an Outstanding Student Award, which she has referred to as her proudest moment in the programme.

 

She credits the recognition to her diligence in taking a variety of classes, having perfect attendance and choreographing successful pieces. BDC Director of Educational Programming Bonnie Erickson said of Illidge: “Natorii is our first-ever student from St. Maarten and so we’ve decided that everyone from there is awesome and never stops smiling. This lovely young lady just has such wonderful warmth; it’s a joy just to be in her presence. We’re so proud of how she’s growing, and all her performances are always just spectacular.”

 

Illidge describes her NYC experience as follows: “The most remarkable journey that I have experienced. Truthfully, I was indecisive about switching from a solid job as a primary school teacher to explore my love of dance in the bigger world, and eventually make a career out of it. Coming to New York City and taking classes at Broadway Dance Center was the wisest decision I have made thus far.”

 

The young dancer said she is thrilled and thankful every morning to take a variety of classes with elite dance teachers in the city. “I also got the opportunity to be surrounded by amazing passionate dancers from all over the world, with whom I built close relationships and I was constantly being inspired and enlightened.”

 

To succeed as a dance educator, Illidge is continuously learning different dance styles and techniques as well as appreciating it at different levels. “The different dance styles that I am growing in are ballet, jazz, contemporary, street jazz, hip-hop and African; but dance styles that I am discovering and exploring are dancehall, house, tap, and afro-soca. Being exposed to so many genres of dance can be very overwhelming because I only have one body. However, I want to excel in all.”

 

When she first began the programme, she knew that the first thing she needed to do was to get a little taste of every form of dance at BDC. “I decided to first build my technique particularly in jazz along with ballet and contemporary. As a dancer and an upcoming dance educator, it is crucial to master skills and develop techniques and knowledge of one or more dance forms, as well as have content knowledge and training in dance technique. Therefore, I put most of my time concentrating on my mastering these areas. Although most of my training in St. Maarten was jazz, I’ve been exposed to new and diverse styles of jazz which is quite exciting.”

 

Additionally, every week she also takes tap, dancehall, and street dance classes. “These classes built my versatility and helped me discover more about myself as a dancer. Tap is a dance form that I also wanted to explore when I was a little girl. Tap enables your feet to turn into percussion instruments and you create your own rhythm. It is astounding! Dancehall is a dance form that is not recognised by many, but it is an art form that evokes a story and simply life. I fell in love with this dance form as well.”

 

Throughout the training, every two/three months, there is a performance project where BDC students are given the opportunity to choreograph and/or perform. “I took great advantage of this because one of my goals is to build my skills in choreography. I’ve had an amazing learning experience choreographing three pieces. Each piece that I choreographed contained a little Caribbean flavour for the purpose of sharing my culture with the dancers and teachers.”

 

In January, Illidge and another dancer paired-up to merge two different dance forms in one dance piece. The dance forms were belly dance and afro-soca. “We successfully choreographed and performed this piece with eight other dancers. In March, I challenged myself and choreographed a lyrical jazz piece with a reggae song; and in June, I choreographed an afro fusion piece that included afro jazz, dancehall and West African. This Afro fusion piece really stood out in the show and it got selected to be performed in the Professional Semester Showcase at Symphony Space Theater.”

 

Over the past months, Illidge has built a close relationship with BDC teachers including Michelle Barber, Laure Courtellemont, Beth Goheen, Dorrit Koppel, Justin Boccitto, Ashle Dawson, Robert Taylor Jr., Luam, Ephrat Asherie, Slam, Brice Mousset, Jessica Phoenix and her mentor Sheila Barker.

 

She had the opportunity to perform in Barker’s (jazz) and Ashle Dawson’s (Latin/contemporary) pieces in the BDC Student Showcase in May. Michelle Barber (jazz) has also selected Illidge to rehearse and perform in the Synthesis Dance and Friends showcase at the Salvatore Capezio Theatre this month. Illidge said she is “truly grateful” to be in this show. “I was also given a great opportunity to assist my mentor Sheila Barker in a junior jazz summer intensive in July and the advance jazz/lyrical summer intensive workshop series in August at BDC. This was a very educational experience and I am truly honoured to have been selected.”

 

“Even though I was swamped with many classes in the programme, I pushed myself to explore dance outside of the school as well. I took classes at Alvin Ailey and Steps. At Alvin Ailey, I focused on the modern techniques: Horton and West African; and in Steps, I focused on jazz and tap. I also had the opportunity to rehearse and perform with Shakira Marshall, an afro soca dance instructor and founder of the company Soca Sirens. She is also known for being one of the teachers in the Art Saves Lives summer intensive in St. Maarten. Working with her was enlightening and joyful.”

 

“Throughout my experience in the city, I have learnt more about myself as well as my personal strengths and weaknesses. There is a popular saying that New York can either make you or break you; I surely witnessed and agree with that saying. New York surely tested my passion and has considerably constructed me into a more independent, determined, goal-driven, and organised being.”

 

Illidge’s programme at BDC will end the first week of September, but she plans to experience auditions and take extra classes at other schools before returning home in October.

 

She looks forward to having the opportunity to enrich young dancers in St. Maarten “with the great knowledge of dance” that she has gained in The Big Apple. “I strongly feel that this is only the beginning of my dance career where I wish to return to New York City and explore a lot more. The more I explore, the more I can give back to my St. Maarten.”

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