Gregor Breedy – Saving Trinbagonian Folk Dances

Veteran choreographer Gregor Breedy has been dancing for 36 years and is well known for his work in Best Village. His PhD research in Carnival Studies at UTT involves codifying the steps used in the folk dances of T&T, as a contribution to the dance community.

Gregor Breedy Trinidad Dancer Choreographer Best Village Folks Dance
Dancer/ Choreographer – Gregor Breedy at COCO Dance Festival 2011 | Photo Credit: Karen Johnstone Motionography

Breedy said folk is currently one of the hardest dances in T&T.

“With folk, you have to always be demonstrating, but in ballet you can say, two plies, two releves, and people understand what you mean. I want folk to become like that, so an older person doesn’t always have to feel frustrated that ‘I can’t show them, they wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.’”

He said the process will involve cottage meetings with experts in the field so that whatever decisions he makes will be widely accepted.

Breedy began his career in 1990 at the Trinidad East Indian Dance Company, under Rajkumar Krishna Persad, before being asked to join the Barataria Best Village Group by Felix Harrington. In 1983, he won Best Male Dancer, the first in a long series of awards. While with Barataria, he was also taught by Peter London and Emelda Lynch-Griffith, and was simultaneously a member of the Caribbean School of Dance under Patricia Roe, the Carol La Chapelle Dance Company, the Astor Johnston Dance Company and the Andre Ettienne Dance Company. In 1985, Breedy won a scholarship to the Toronto Dance Theatre, where he studied for four years before joining the Gina Lori Riley Dance Company in Windsor, Ontario, from 1990 to 1994. While there, he went on a tour of the Arctic, which he described as one of the most memorable times of his life. “I was able to interact with the Aurora Borealis and I saw reindeer and taught dance to Inuit children in igloos. Every week, everyone would come together to dance and play music and the community spirit was amazing. The culture was so strong and it reminded me of T&T, but with snow.” He also taught many young people in Windsor to dance folk, including some from children’s homes.

In 1995, Breedy returned to T&T, where he has amassed a slew of trophies in the Best Village Competition, working with Barataria Commnity Council, the Prizgar Lands/Kelly Village Sports and Cultural Association, the North West Laventille Cultural Movement, the Charlotteville Heritage Company in Tobago and the Israel Lovell Company in Barbados, among others. He won Best Male Dancer from 1995 to 2000, and Best Choreographer in 1995 to 1997, 2005 to 2007, 2012 and 2014 to 2016. Also, under his guidance, the Bishop Anstey High School won third place at the World Arts Festival in 2008 with a Bele dance. Breedy also received a Gayelle Independence Award in 2009.

Breedy has worked with theatre veterans such as Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson, Davlin Thomas and Ronald Amoroso, who he described as his mentors in the theatre world. “It’s amazing work. They push you to the limit, it’s sickening to the point where you want to say you don’t want to do it, but for me, when it looks too easy I leave, but I stick to it when it’s challenging because I feel I will learn something.”

In 2012, Breedy did his BFA with a specialization in Dance at UTT, inspired by the late Beryl McBurnie, who said he reminded her of the late Rex Nettleford. He then did his Masters Degree in Carnival Arts Studies with Dr. Hollis Liverpool, and is now pursuing his PhD with Professor Valerie Stout.

Gregor Breedy (right) and fellow UTT students perform at an Indian Arrival Day Celebration | Photo courtesy: The University of Trinidad and Tobago

Breedy said he’s been blessed to have some of the best teachers in the world. “In Toronto Dance Theater, I had David Earle, Patricia Beatty, Susan Sherman, Billyann Balay, who are the best in Canada in modern dance. In Trinidad, I had Felix Harrington, Patricia Roe, Astor Johnston, Cyril St. Lewis, Andre Ettienne, Jean Coggins and Emelda Lynch-Griffith, I mean they were the best.”

While working on his PhD over the next two years, Breedy said he will also be working with children. “I think I have to pass on a lot of work to the children because I’m watching most of the dances nowadays and I don’t think the children are being taught properly. We want the children to like us, so we do things that they like, and we don’t take charge of how they should go. I think we have to teach children how to be critical thinkers, because I don’t think we do that well. I’m very rough with my students, because I want to be proud of them the way my teachers are proud of me.

Breedy said while studying, he realized there were many things which he had taken for granted, like the power of the body as it relates to dance and how a performer has to command the stage. He said he learned that

“most of the traditions we have are as a result of the slaves needing to express themselves but needing to mask what they were doing at the same time and this masking tradition continues to this day in Carnival.”

He said he learned to see life from a different perspective, not take things for granted, and above all, not to speak about certain topics from a position of authoritative ignorance without doing research on them. “I’m also more compassionate about people and their ways of live. I’ve become more disciplined, tolerant and productive overall.”

Gregor Breedy performis in Metamorphosis' Giselle (2012) | Photo Credit: Karen Johnstone Motionography
Gregor Breedy performis in Metamorphosis’ Giselle (2012) | Photo Credit: Karen Johnstone Motionography

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