Clara Reyes

Taking Imbali and Dance Centerstage

Clara Reyes, dancer extraordinaire, is finally ready to live in her world on her own terms. This summer Clara walked into her studio at the John Larmonie Center knowing there would be no going back. It was time for her Imbali Center for Creative Movement to be center stage in her own life.

Clara told Caribelle that she always wanted to see the arts and more specifically, dance, be taken more seriously on St. Maarten and and she was tired of people seeing it only as a side gig or hobby. The dancer walked away from a full time position at a local high school to follow her spirit and has been crying out for release through movement.

“I realized early this year that I would have to change a few things about my life and going fulltime into Imbali was a priority. The move was one that had to be made because if you don’t invest the tome for the art to happen, it will always be perceived as a hobby that no one will take seriously.” She said.
“I really want the world of dance art to be fulfilled in all its complexity and to make it come about I had to also be willing to pay the price. Dancing and growing Imbali was always in the forefront in my thoughts. It was time to give dance the attention it deserved.”

She realized that to teach dance at the level she had been taught also requires that she is physically prepared. Her mornings begin at 5:00 am just as when she studied dance at Alvin Aily in New York City and had to take the train to work. “I work out every morning to get my body back to where it was. I am revisiting the place was and getting a full immersion in dance.”

This transition from stable income to the unknown, has npt been without doubts and in “those moments of blind panic, I opened a dance book and realized it wasn’t easy for nobody.”

For the dancer, success is not waiting down the road for her; it has already come. “Walking away from the job … that was success. I was waiting for the apprehension and the thoughts of ‘what have I done?’ to set in and they didn’t come. It felt absolutely right. Even when the studio is empty, there is such a sense that this is right. I see this amorphous shape starting to be realized. All of that is success for me …. The other things like funding, recognition etc will come later.”

Over the past seven years, Clara has created several unique events that merge dance with living history. Were able to glimpse what dance can do She wants to do more of that. “In different ways everyone acknowledges dance and I think that people were able to glimpse what dance can do in productions such as the Ponum and the Freedom Walk. So when the time is right,I want to produce on a regular and consistent level, creative works that others will be able to tap into.”

For Clara, the years spent teaching were just a necessary detour to get to the decision to work at Imbali fulltime.
“Before I went to get my masters degree, I was about to do this .. I came back and wanted the best vehicle to make it accessible and working on the high school was that route. The infrastructure to teach art in school is not there. You need a space where you can be vulnerable. Noone wants to be vulnerable in a parking lot. A safe place needed to be created and I can do that at Imbali. I watched kids blossoming and wanted to give them the space for the art to happen.” Clara obtained a Masters of Fine Arts Dance, Choreography and Performance from State University of New York, Brockport in 2002.

Clara’s yearning to see dance take a more integral role in St. Maarten’s identity transcends the art form. She wants to see every singer musician, painter take time to explore what the voice of the island really is. “It is so easy to follow what others are singing and doing, but they took the time to investigate themselves and we need to go that too. We are so inundated with American images that no one is taking to explore who we are. Are we all speaking the hip hop language? I would like ot see our SXM idiom be translated into songs we sing, the plays we write and the dance moves we do.”

At Imbali, you won’t hear any contemporary music. You are likely to hear Mighty Dow and lots of instrumental music. “The contemporary music is a specific language that is already established. International music gives my kids a chance to step away and create their own movements.”

One of the things Clara is most grateful for is time.. With her focus clearly on developing dance on the island she is confident that there will time to do productions just the way she wants them.
“I went through a period of all possibilities bubbling up to the surface and it was overwhelming. Now there is time to think it through and do the right research to make them happen just the way I envison them,” she concluded.

Clara said her love for dance has been a lifelong one and it was a blessing to be able to go from Cul-de-Sac, St. Maarten to Alvin Ailey in New York City. Now that She is at Imbali fulltime she must give that full expression to this connection with her art fprm and explore the full spectrum of it.
“ I have always been on this joutney and am very lucky to have the freedom to use dance as my vehicleof exploring the world. This is strictly me right now and I want to show the spectrum of my personal voice.”

Taken from Claribelle,Vol 1. Issue 4. Oct-Nov 2007
Written by Nerissa Golden

Clara info

The Vagina Monologue


Clara honors “older heads” for information in university study of the Ponum dance.

GREAT BAY, St. Martin (June 30, 2003)—It will be a fitting 155th anniversary tribute to Emancipation Day when the video “companion” to Clara Reyes master’s study of the Ponum is shown here at the Cultural Center on Tuesday, July 1, 2003, from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

The Ponum, St. Martin’s only surviving folk dance, has been the subject of intense and well-documented study and comparative analysis by Reyes since the mid-1990s. In fact, the Ponum is now the national dance and unifying symbol of the history and culture of the whole island of St. Martin. .

At the July 1 free public presentation, song diva LaVaune Henry will welcome the audience as the mistress of ceremony. Reyes will follow with a brief background to the study and introduction to the video. The video may indeed be the highlight and proof of the first-of-a-kind study for St. Martin, but what promises to be quite touching is when Reyes honors a number of the senior citizens who were her primary and secondary research interviewees and spiritual guides. .

The “older heads,” such as Jean “Tata” Brooks, Millie Nelson and Victor January will be the special guests of the dancer/choreographer and presented with certificates of appreciation. Family members will represent others who are unable to attend because of age. Some of the seniors, such as philanthropist Emilio Wilson and midwife and Ponum dancer “Tan’tan Nez” Baly-Lewis have passed on since the interviews were conducted and they too will receive a certificate of appreciation posthumously from Reyes. .

The actual thesis, a 130-page document entitled “From the People of St. Martin, Ponum an Emancipation Story,” will be on exhibit for public viewing following the video and during the reception. The study was completed in July 2002 as a requirement for the fulfillment of Reyes’s Master of Fine Arts from the University of New York College at Brockport. .

The Ponum thesis presentation is organized by Imbali Center for Creative Movement, Council on the Arts, Jewel Foundation, House of Nehesi Publishers and Conscious Lyrics Foundation.

Clara Reyes presents master’s degree study about Ponum on Emancipation Day.

GREAT BAY, St. Martin (June 26, 2003)—St. Martin’s leading choreographer Clara Reyes will present her master’s thesis on the Ponum dance to the public here at the Cultural Center, Backstreet, on July 1, 2003. .

The Emancipation Day presentation, from 6 PM to 7:30 PM, will consist mainly of video showing the dance steps, footage of performances in St. Martin and New York and interviews with the elders who made up the main source of Reyes’s research. .

The Ponum is the St. Martin national dance that has survived for over 100 years. “Taking the Ponum confidently into the university, writing and defending the thesis in front of professors and scholars, returning home and now presenting the document and video, is my ‘thank you’ and gift to the people of St. Martin. The July 1st presentation is especially for the older heads that helped with the information and the dance steps that they danced when they were young or that they saw their parents and neighbors dancing. .

“Some of the old people I spoke with have passed on. But the information they left with us is serving to pass on an important creation of our culture to another generation. This transfer of ideas, cultural creativity and this aspect of the St. Martin identity will keep their names, faces and voices alive in our history as well,” said Reyes. .

The 130-page document, entitled “From the People of St. Martin, Ponum an Emancipation Story ,” will be on exhibit during the presentation and the reception that will follow. .

The study was completed in July 2002 as a requirement for the fulfillment of Reyes’s Master of Fine Arts from the University of New York College at Brockport. Reyes said that the inspiration and the organization of the information grew out of her commission from House of Nehesi Publishers Foundation. Also an accomplished dancer, Reyes’s task was to research and choreograph a definitive version of the national dance for the foundation’s Ponum documentary film. .

The documentary footage has been completed since 2000, but funds to edit and produce copies of the film have been tough to raise, according to House of Nehesi Publishers.