Photo/ Courtesy of Amal Bryson
Growing up in St. Croix Amal’s childhood was a mixture of light and dark. “There were moments where I did not want to go to school, I did not want to eat, and I did not want to feel anything.”
Amal’s father died when he was 10 years old. Losing his father was very difficult for him. Bryson found solace in an after-school dance program in elementary school. A year later, a chance encounter at a dance competition would change his life.
How did you discover dance?
Dance found me. I entered a “Stop the Bleeding” dance competition through the Evelyn Williams Elementary afterschool program. Charlita Schuster, the artistic director of Music in Motion Dance Company of the Virgin Islands was a judge in the competition. She was impressed by my performance and offered me a full scholarship to attend Music in Motion Dance School.
You were the youngest student at Music in Motion with very little dance experience. What was the transition like for you from street to formal dance training?
The training was intensive, and I struggled initially. But when I put my mind up to something, I give it my all. I started training in classical ballet and ballet infused with gymnastics movements. I also studied a broad range of dance styles including contemporary dance, jazz, tap, hip hop, and African dance.
After just one year with the dance company, I was selected to go to Denmark to perform at their Annual Cultural Festival Celebration. Music in Motion also provided me with the opportunity to train with the Dance Theater of Harlem and Atlanta Dance Collective.
What challenges did you face as a young male dancer in St. Croix?
Classical ballet pushed me out of my comfort zone both physically and emotionally. One of my biggest challenges was being honest with myself about how I felt. I was uncomfortable with the feminine movements of ballet. I was uneasy about wearing tights and leotards. These feelings stemmed from the judgment I knew I would receive from others.
In my community, male ballet dancers are viewed as feminine. I had to deal with people asking me, “What are you doing dancing ballet? You are a boy.” I was bullied, teased, and beat-up on in school. Sometimes my teachers would invite me to have lunch in their classrooms to prevent me from being bullied. The aggressive bullying was directly linked to homophobia, which is rampant in the Caribbean community.
During summer and winter breaks from college, you returned to St. Croix and gave back to your community. What inspired you to offer dance workshops?
I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the joy of dance. I was 11 years old when I discovered my passion for dance. I wanted to give young people in my community the opportunity to learn how to express themselves and tell their story through dance.
We invited dancers at all levels and interests, ages 13 and older. During the summer of 2018, I hosted my first Dance Fury workshop. It was well-received, so I decided to host Dance Fury 2.0 when I returned home for Christmas break. The workshops allowed me to give participants who typically would not have access, a formal dance training experience.
You performed with the International Dance Company, KasheDance in 2019. How did you land that opportunity?
I was given a scholarship by the Pride Organization of St. Croix to train with KasheDance, a contemporary dance company founded by Jamaican, Kevin Ormsby. That same year the Pride Committee invited KasheDance to perform in St. Croix for Pride month. Kevin Ormsby and Joseph Bess (Chairman of St. Croix Pride) invited me to perform since I had learned the dance during my three-week training at KasheDance.
We performed “Facing Home: Love and Redemption,” an Afro-Caribbean contemporary dance that was choreographed by Kevin Ormsby and Chris Walker. The performance put the spotlight on homophobia and misogyny in the Caribbean, topics that are not always addressed in our community. Facing Home draws parallels to my life growing up on St. Croix. Every emotion that I evoked in my performance was 100% real.
I also performed Facing Home with KasheDance on a mini-tour for their anniversary celebration.
How did dance save you?
It’s been my therapy…my escape…my discipline. Dance kept me grounded and focused. I have been able to tell amazing stories through dance. It has shaped my life and brought me so much joy. Most of all, dance gave me the courage and strength to embrace who I am and to live my life out loud.
What’s next for you?
I graduated from Virginia State University in May 2020 with a major in Biology and a minor in dance. I would like to continue to grow in the art of dance. My dream is to be the lead actor in a Netflix dance drama series set in the Caribbean. One day, I would also like to return to St. Croix to open an aquarium with dance entertainment.
Amal’s childhood years were a struggle, but he persevered. He credits his mother, teachers, childhood friends, and mentors like Charlita for his survival.