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posted 5 Jan 2021, 18:40 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 5 Jan 2021, 19:01 ]
Given the current pandemic situation, we in the Diaspora cannot be physically with you for your celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Arawaks Dance Group. You are all in our thoughts and we feel honoured to be able to share some comments on this important celebration.


First of all, we are thankful that our first lady of Dance, the late Dr. Beryl McBurnie T.C. took up the mantle given to her by a visionary Anglican Priest, the late
Beryl Mcburnie
Canon Max E. Farquhar of the St. Paul’s Anglican Church, to set up a branch of the “Little Carib” in San Fernando in 1955.

The Arawaks Dance group emerged from these early foundation sessions given by Beryl who initially travelled twice per week from Port of Spain to San Fernando and then the baton was passed to Kelvin Rotardier who kept it together for a short while until he migrated. Beryl noted in her 1965 greetings to the group:

“The Arawak stranded, without teacher and guardian, were now left to their own resources. Fate can be kind in many strange ways, because out of this plight emerged Torrance Mohammed.”


Torrance Mohammed
I first saw the Arawaks Dance Group practicing at the Old St Paul’s Hall in San Fernando somewhere around 1969. This was not far from the practice sessions that I attended for the Drama Guild. We needed a dance performance of the “Ramleela Dance” for the play “New Dancers in the Dooryard” written by Eric Roach.

I was sent to meet with Torrance and he agreed to handle this aspect of the play. This was my first encounter with the famous Arawak Dance Group and their subsequent performance was remarkable. My long association and friendship with Torrance and the Arawaks Group was built from these small beginnings.

The Arawaks was always available to support new ventures. In 1978, they eagerly joined the delegation that I led. They were part of the cultural section of the T&T contingent for the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana Cuba. In 1979, they were a critical part of the San Fernando Arts Council delegation to Cuba. I continued to be able to watch the progress of the Arawaks until I migrated in early eighties but many of us have kept abreast of the group’s development and the reach and trajectory of several of its off springs.


In celebrating Arawaks, we are also celebrating the achievements of Torrance Mohammed. His creative talent, commitment, leadership, vison, hard work and his endurance is demonstrated in the fact that Arawaks Dance Group is celebrating 65 years of existence. This in itself is a feat in our cultural history and we as a country must recognise and applaud Torrance for his steadfastness and his work to enrich and uplift our culture.

Torrance understood early on that for a group to survive and prosper, it had to be grounded in the community. Arawaks has been a firm part of the San Fernando community. It provides hope, self-enlightenment and a creative outlet for many young people. Arawaks gave many a sense of belonging, particularly in difficult times.

Torrance understood that to survive as a group, you had to engage a core membership living and working in the community. This also helped the group with succession and renewal as younger community members join and learn and develop the Dance. Beryl’s analogy with the birds and its nest is important. Several birds when they became of age, they flew from the Arawaks nest and built their own nest and this was positive and appreciated by Torrance, as they can all trace their lineage to Arawaks Dance Group.

As a 58-year-old independent country, if we are to truly develop, we must build and sustain our institutions. The survival and persistence of organisations like the Arawaks Group is critical to house our experience and to help develop our deep understanding of the Dance forms and their antecedents. It provides an example for other areas of national life. We can and must build institutions capable of adapting to change.


We do not need language to understand and appreciate dance. It is indeed an expressive form of creative communication that provides its own syntax with the movements of bodies. Here is Master Dancer, Choreographer Torrance talking about Dance as the outer physical expression of the inner being, disciplined by rhythm. He explained:

"The word dance came from an old German word 'danso' means stretching and relaxing. Choreography, which is the art of making dances, or the planning of dance movement, came from the Greek words 'khoros' means (dancing) and 'graphic' means (writing). Dance is the mother of the Art forms."

He notes that “Music and poetry exist in time. Painting and Architecture exist in space, but the dance lives in time and space. The Art Form of dance most vividly dramatizes the emotions and passions of a people, and the study of dance can shed new light upon the historical, sociological and ethnological development of a country.

Dance affords opportunities to meet and work with people of varying characters and characteristics and helps to foster togetherness of the group, team spirit, co-operation, and healthy competition. One develops a better understanding of human nature and human relationship, respect for others, and above all, enables the individual to develop a sense of self-discipline. "

"It promotes beneficial physiological effects by stimulating the various organs of the body. It helps develop balance, poise, body control and awareness, the grace of movement, proper carriage, and deportment, sharpens one’s reaction time, develops a sense of community of effort in movement, by moving in rhythmic patterns, and generally affords 

Arawaks dance troupe

the opportunity to respond to music and other rhythmic stimuli through movement.” (Quotes Reproduced from Pamela Bain’s undated paper on Torrance Mohammed).


There are important lessons from the endurance of Arawaks Dance Group for the national community. Survival through adaptability to the times, ensuring that the group continues to be grounded in communities, building co-operation and seeking to help communities express their inner feelings.
We need to ensure that the Dance adds its input to the challenging issues of our times.

For instance, UK-based Terrence Wendell Brathwaite, a famous international concert dancer and Dance Movement Psychotherapist initially emerging out of Arawaks, has written extensively on the psychotherapeutic healing potential of Dance and the importance of this medium for the nation, especially within the context of Trinidad Carnival as a foundation of self/communal therapy.

We thus look forward to future anniversary celebrations of the Arawaks Dance Group and we hope it will persist and remain an important institution for San Fernando and the national community.

We congratulate Torrance Iqbal Mohammed, who at 89 still exudes a vibrant, energetic and creative mind. He has done so much to keep the group alive. We thank him for his service.