Shola K. Roberts, a trained dancer from New York by way of Grenada, can attest to this. As she built her career, she noticed that many dancers left the industry due to meager earnings, and others didn’t even enter the industry due to financial barriers. It was even worse for Black dancers, a group that is notoriously overlooked for opportunities and underpaid when they actually get them. Although she believed in her talent, she’d reached a point, much like her peers, where she was forced to pivot.
After graduating from Howard University in dance and Caribbean studies in 2009, she thought she was going to go straight into professional performing with a dance company, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
“I was rejected,” Roberts tells ESSENCE. “So I quickly realized that my success would come from navigating the no’s. Eventually, I was being called to be a part of this showcase and to travel here and do this work and create, et cetera. And so that was really my journey. I was a freelance dancer and teaching artist, going into the schools and cultivating my pedagogical practice. I got to a point where I was good in my career, but I started to ask myself, how do I empower learners to find their voice through movement while creating a living for themselves?”
This question led her to obtain her master’s in dance education in 2017 while continuing her teaching artistry across various organizations, including NYC Public Schools locations.
In 2020, she converged her deep understanding of diasporic artistry and founded the Dance Grenada Festival, an institution that invites Caribbean and international dance artists to sharpen their skills through workshops, performances, and panel discussions. She describes it as a hub for dance innovation, scholarship, and entrepreneurship that provides Black dancers with critical resources for sustaining their careers.
“44 scholarships have been given to participants over the four years since Dance Grenada started in 2020,” she tells ESSENCE. This year’s fest took place Oct. 20-23 and boasted even more participation than previous years. She explains that a pivotal component of the festival is ensuring that dancers receive fair compensation for their artistry, something that doesn’t happen as often as it should. Roberts says that payments to teaching artists have varied since the festival during the Covid-19 pandemic, but as the festival continues to grow, so is the pay scale.
“We are grateful to all of our partners who have made it possible to host at least seven teaching artists each year on the island and compensate them for their time and expertise.”
She continues, “Dance Grenada is my blessing. Being able to bring all the individuals together to share this thing that we love so much on the island that I love so much is something that is very important for me. We have these short term moments when we’re on the stage, but how do we sustain the careers of our dancers? How do we sustain livelihood? I want to stress the importance of honoring and valuing our dancers and supporting them, because that’s really what it’s about.”