News Release

CIIF Grant Boosts COCO Dance Festival’s Reach

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dancer posing against pink background

Sonja Dumas had a dream – to lift the profile of contemporary dance in Trinidad and Tobago.

That vision has evolved into a vibrant dance festival that has attracted the attention of the international dance community, while others in the region seek collaborations and to follow in its footsteps.

Dumas, a highly trained choreographer, dancer, educator and Princeton University graduate, founded the COCO Dance Festival with three colleagues in 2009 to raise the level of appreciation of modern dance at a time when classical dance reigned in most cultural circles of the twin-island republic.

Dumas recalled she and colleague Nicole Wesley were both teaching at the University of Trinidad and Tobago at the time, creating a curriculum for the university’s dance programme. While there were some modern dance programmes around, they felt it was the opportune time to place greater focus on this form of dance.

The COCO Dance Festival, staged annually during the month of October, was awarded USD20,000 in grant funding from the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Cultural and Creative Industries Innovation Fund (CIIF), a multi-donor fund to support the development of the creative industries sector in the Caribbean.

Dumas and Wesley, who co-founded the Contemporary Choreographers' Collective, revealed the project’s reach included more than 200 beneficiaries of training and other activities executed in Trinidad and Tobago.

At least five workshops have been staged to date, while the COCO Dance Festival team is also collaborating with partners in St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada to execute special features of the CDB-funded initiative.

In St Kitts, the COCO Dance Festival organisers are working with the Lake Health & Wellbeing. The entity is a registered public health non-governmental organisation which promotes health and wellbeing across the Caribbean through research, public health interventions, events, campaigns and by offering public health support services around the theme of movement and dance. 

That collaboration will culminate in the production of an animated content production to encourage young people in the twin-island federation to eat healthier and live more wholesome lifestyles that include balanced meals and frequent exercise.

The Grenada partnership is with the Conception Dance Theatre and will involve additional workshops exposing children in rural Grenadian districts to dance.

“Also, as part of the grant, we have put facilities in place for streaming and for the full optimised launch of our website,” Dumas notes, adding, “Some of the money will also go to fund temporary part-time positions which we have already advertised for and persons have submitted applications.  Those persons will help us to roll out the rest of the programme. These include an IT specialist and a legal person to ensure our copyright arrangements are in place, administrators and researchers to help to ensure we have as much material required to fully roll out the website over the next few months.”

Dumas, who has harboured a life-long passion for dance, spoke of the COCO Dance Festival’s collaborations with the Dance Teachers Association of Trinidad and Tobago to stage community workshops and events.

“We are sharing our expertise and helping to build out the capacity of other dance organisations,” she stated, while praising CDB’s financial support and the interventions of the bank’s CIIF representatives whom she described as “patient and fully supportive”.

Dumas identified an important and gratifying aspect of the project as her team’s development into the wider Caribbean.

“Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago are considered the heavy lifters of the region for cultural development, and even though many of our close partners are from Barbados and Jamaica, we were able to expand our knowledge of the region and the region benefited from its knowledge of us and what we do,” she remarked.