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Dance to the Stars

COBA dancer earns her big break early to secure a career in her dream job

by Katy Littlejohn

photo by Kaleen Joseph

Toronto is a challenging city for anyone just beginning a career. Rent is high, there’s a lack of centricity, and the TTC is no cure for the high volume traffic. However, it does offer some amazing opportunities for the young professional. Dedicating a lifetime to a career in the arts can be a task though, and in order to really shoot for the stars, performers like 24–year-old Nickeshia Garrick of COBA—Collective of Black Artists dance company—need a lucky break to go along with all their talent.

photo by Kaleen Joseph

To pursue a career in dance, a talented and driven dancer has a few options: to teach dance, to audition for as many companies as possible, or to audition for the company one wants to work for, and be good enough to make the cut. Garrick managed the latter. “I auditioned with [COBA] last year in August, and I found out that I was accepted right after the audition…I went back to school to finish up my BFA, knowing that I had a job right after school.”

Garrick completed her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University in the Contemporary Arts program. As a child, she had trained with several studios, including the National Ballet School of Canada and Toronto Dance Theatre. She has worked with a plethora of choreographers, noting Christopher House and Allen Kaeja as two of the most important. Mia Michaels remains on her wish list of people to work with in the future. “She’s just ridiculous,” Garrick gushes. “The way she moves—that’s the way I love to move! She’s amazing. I love her.”

Garrick performs as a student at Simon Frasier University in 2009.

Garrick specializes in Modern and Contemporary dance, and as a dancer at COBA, she is also required to excel at West African styles. “[I’m] very classically trained,” states Garrick. “Having to throw in West African on top of having to know how to drum as well and [singing] traditional African songs…it does teach you how to be versatile.” Garrick’s personal style seems to be the perfect match for the company that embraced her. “I like to be indulgent with my steps…I like to really get into my movement.” Garrick was drawn to COBA by the unique style they produce on stage. “It’s not easy to switch from doing Modern/Contemporary to having to do traditional West African and also convincing the audience that you’re good at West African…” She finds that convincing an audience that Contemporary dancers can be “damn good at West African as well” is rewarding.

Once a dancer has a job, it’s not necessarily time to kick back. Garrick is grateful that she can earn money doing what she loves. “I have to remember that I’m definitely blessed to be making money dancing…those days when I’m exhausted and I don’t feel like dancing, I just have to breathe and remember that I could be sitting in an office doing a 9–5 being bored and falling asleep at my desk. I get to dance, and see the world and travel, and meet really interesting characters.” It definitely requires hard work and dedication both in and outside of the studio. “It’s not easy—you have to be very persistent…it’s good to be multi-talented as well…if you want to look at it from a financial point of view, if [money’s] not coming in on one aspect…you have something on the side.” When she’s not rehearsing or working temp jobs around town, she’s recording songs, playing gigs, and contributing her vocal talents to local projects, including a CBC program featuring Toronto’s Amai Kuda to be aired on February 4th and 24th.

photo by Kaleen Joseph

Garrick is just getting back into rehearsal mode for the upcoming COBA shows. “Our season this year is going to be strictly West African,” she explains. So far this season, COBA has presented their West African Ballet Les Rythmes de la Forêt at the Harbourfront Centre.

Every dancer knows that a career on stage can’t last forever—certainly not as long as that of a 9–5 job. Garrick has set her sights on dance for now with aspirations to travel as much as possible. Having already been to Trinidad, Jamaica, and England with the company, she includes Winnipeg as a destination for next year as well as plans to return to the Caribbean nations. Eventually, Garrick wants to work in New York. Again, she already has her company picked out. This time it’s Urban Bush Women, a company based out of New York City. “They’re really amazing—a strong company of all females.” While she checks these goals off of her life to-do list, Garrick continues to make new goals for her life after dance; “being able to be an Artistic Director for a dance company would be amazing,” she says. If things keep going the way they are now, Garrick can look forward to leaving quite the legacy in the world of dance.

In order to pursue and achieve a career in a field that is a passion, you have to indulge in that passion—put it all out there, leave blood on the dance floor. Garrick’s drive may be a self-professed cliché, but for a young performer determination is key: “Never give up on your dream and always pursue what you believe in.”

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