Aisha Comissiong

“There is a quote that goes "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up" - Pablo Picasso.  I don't think people understand the importance of the arts in one's life. It's like the world exists in black and white and the arts add colour to our world.  We sit and we listen to music, watch TV, admire visual art, and then discourage the young ones from pursuing it - seems a bit backward to me.  I believe both academics and the arts are crucial to the development of us human beings on a whole. Not only does it make you a better all rounded individual but I believe it changes the way you look at the world and life around you and I am grateful for having the opportunity to be exposed to pursuing excellence in both and maintaining the need and appreciation for both in life.”    Aisha Comissiong    January 2014

Aisha Dayo Comissiong is a young multi-talented Barbadian with extraordinary skills in dance. She holds a ‘Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance Performance and Choreography’ with first class honours from the prestigious Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, in Jamaica.  She was voted ‘the most outstanding student of the 2012 graduating class, having achieved the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) in the entire college and was Valedictorian at the graduating ceremony. 

 

Aisha also collected five prestigious awards, ‘The Rex Nettleford Award for Outstanding Performance and Choreography’, ‘The Bert Rose Award for the Most Outstanding Performer’, ‘The School of Dance Award for All Round Excellence’, ‘The Best Research Award’ and ‘The Principal’s Award for Most Outstanding Student in the Schools of the Performing Arts’.

 

She also gained a lower level distinction in the accumulative totals of practical and theory Grade 3 exams with L'antech and she became a member of the dance company ‘L'Acadco’, a United Caribbean Dance force in Jamaica. She travelled with them to Trinidad for the ‘Decades of Dance Festival’, Suriname for ‘Carifesta XI’, and Washington DC to perform at the IADB (Inter American Development Bank) and The John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts.

 

Aisha’s achievements did not spring up over night, she dabbled in several activities while growing up and on reflection she appreciates all the experiences that she had.   “Throughout primary to secondary school I was fortunate to dabble in any endeavour I wished to pursue. I attended dance classes, piano, guitar and drum lessons, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, netball, volleyball and tennis”, she recalled.

 

As she got older, she focused on the ones she preferred which happened to be athletics and dance and she had to be responsible for organising her activities.  “My parents were supportive of what we did but they didn't baby us.  As busy as I was while growing up, so were my parents and as such I had the responsibility of dealing with my extracurricular activities.  I caught the bus and walked a lot to get to ‘Dance Strides’ until I got my driver’s license when my father allowed me to use his car.”  

 

Aisha represented Charles F Broome Primary School and Harrison College in swimming and track and field. She was also a member of the Cadet Corps at Harrison College, the Cadet Band, Harrison College NCSA Peer Support Programme, and the Harrison College Peace Ambassadors Programme.

 

Before leaving primary school in 2000, Aisha was a bronze medallist in the Ministry of Tourism - FCCA Children’s Environmental Poster Contest and she had started to dance and play the piano and guitar.  Aisha took guitar lessons at the ‘Guitar Academy’ and was the school’s most improved student in 2000.  She played the acoustic guitar for about five years and was also a keen pianist with passes in grade one to five in Classical Piano (Practical) from the Associated Board of The Royal School of Music (ABRSM) and grade one and two in music theory also from ABRSM.

 

She captured the title of junior Victrix Ludorum at Harrison College in 2004 and senior Victrix Ludorum in 2005.  In 2008, her final year at school, she was the Track & Field Pentathlon Champion at the secondary schools inter-school sports and was named “Sportswoman of the Year” at Harrison College.  

 

Aisha also proved that extracurricular activities do not hinder academic performance when she gained eight passes in her CSEC exams in 2006 and won a speech day award for excellent work in Principles of Accounts.  Two years later she graduated from Harrison College with an associate degree in History, Sociology and English Literature.  “I had to be extremely disciplined. I remember coming in after 9:00 pm from lessons because it was very far from where we lived, preparing for bed and then waking up early in the morning to do our homework for school”, she recalled.

 

Before deciding to be a dancer, Aisha contemplated a career in law and she shared with us that, “I initially wanted to become a lawyer and pursue an athletic scholarship but in 2006/2007, I decided that I could no longer continue to train in both spheres and I chose dance, looking toward pursuing my Bachelors in Fine Arts in dance, becoming a professional dancer and supplementing it all with a Masters and PhD”.

 

By the time she graduated from school, she gained a scholarship to the ‘Randolph Academy for The Performing Arts Tertiary’, in Toronto and she also spent a short time at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus before enrolling at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Art in Jamaica.

 

It was her dad who started Aisha in dance under the guidance of Sheron Trotman, principal of Dance Strides Barbados and it was there that she spent the majority of her years training and building her foundation in dance. Since then she has also danced with Barbados Dance Theatre, Dancin' Africa and The Dance Place.

 

Aisha was a member of the all female dance group ‘Xclusive’ and she was instrumental in doing the majority of the choreography and helped the group to win a bronze medal at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) in 2005.

Over the years, Aisha gained a distinction in grade 6 and grade 7 of the Royal Academy of Dance Ballet exams and in 2008 she won the award for “Most Improved Student’ at The Dance Place.  She also copped several NIFCA awards for dance between 1999 and 2008.

 

NIFCA 2011 was a great year for the dancer/choreographer who copped a gold and bronze medal for her choreographies "Remembering Forgotten Souls" and "Mirror Image" respectively.  She also received two nominations - one for the Prime Minister’s Scholarship which is awarded to the individual with the most promise in developing excellence in their discipline and the Prime Minster's award for most original entry.  She went on to receive the Scholarship for her gold winning piece "Remembering Forgotten Souls" (Choreography) which also received the CBC Inaugural Documentary award.

 

In 2012, Aisha won another NIFCA gold award for her piece, "HERstory Chapter 21" (Choreography), which also won the CBC Inaugural Documentary Award that year.

 

Aisha’s background in History and her academic research play a major role in all her work for example, “Mirror Image" was actually inspired by the speech made by the late Honourable Errol Walton Barrow entitled “Mirror Image”, which her father gave her to read when she was in second form at Harrison College.  

 

As enthusiastic as she was about dance and although she had the full support of her parents, not everyone thought that she should pursue a career in dance and she has faced disapproving comments from persons who frowned on her chosen career.  “It has been frustrating because it is only here in Barbados that we seemingly don’t see the potential contribution the arts have for our nation. Similarly, I always tell people and other dancers, you don’t know whether you really love, or eat, sleep, and breathe dance until you have experienced dance outside of Barbados where dance does not merely exist as a hobby or something you do because you don’t have two left feet’.

 

Aisha reminds us that there are several studies that show the benefits of the arts in the early developmental stages of children and she says that she and her sister, whose story also appears on this site, are living products of that. She also believes that given the opportunity to be creative, children can be more confident. 

 

Aisha dismisses the thought that studying the arts is easy and she explains that it is taxing, as you are physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged every single day. “It gets quite taxing hence you have to be thick-skinned and dedicated and you have to really want it and fight every day. I personally think that the best artists are those who have a grasp of both academia and the arts, because you become limitless in the art you produce and you have a different way of thinking about your creative process.” 

 

Aisha considers herself an advocate for the reversal of the ‘Artist Brain-Drain’ in the Caribbean. “I insist on maintaining the use of the word ‘brain’ in the term, because as artists, we know all too well, the loads of academic research and writing that we have to complete in order to produce even one of our simplest, or smallest creations.  As such, I do believe it is our responsibility to dispel the negative connotation, that to choose the arts over the more conventional and traditional careers serve as an indicator of an inferior intellectual capacity.” 

 

Aisha thanks her father for his over whelming support that he has given to her and she credits him for her success as a dancer and choreographer.  “Although both my parents are lawyers and academics, I was fortunate to have a father that loves the arts and a mother that is a stickler for academics. They both instilled in my siblings and I this thirst to achieve and succeed in all we endeavour to do.”

 

Aisha brags that her father has attended every show or event that she has performed at and as a result he has developed an eye for dance.  “While I was in Jamaica my father kept me up-to-date, giving me feed-back, suggestions, and showering the dancers with encouraging words and giving them the four rules of performance he drafted for me.  I have not forgotten them and I continue to pass them on to my peers who too are quite grateful for them.” 

 

Disciplined and focused on her goals, Aisha warns girls not to get distracted by relationships while in school.   ”Those things come in time, she says. “Once I sacrificed my studies to talk to a guy and although I did well in exams that year it wasn't up to the standard I was accustomed to and that was something I still regret to this day.  It was a huge lesson for me and I have never made that mistake again, nothing distracts me from my studies, not a party, not a guy, nothing like that”.  Aisha turned down music videos and ads while in Jamaica because she was focusing on getting first class honours and she did just that.  

 

Aisha maintains a very special relationship with her younger sister and she admits that, “I can't help but mimic what my sister said. It always amuses us that people look at us on the outside and see two completely different persons yet when we're up late at night talking to one another, no matter where we are in the world we're like two peas in a pod. What I will add though is that although I'm the elder of the two, a lot of the time she plays the big sister role”. 

 

Back in Barbados, Aisha will be working with Dancin’ Africa and the UWI and she is looking forward to starting her Master’s degree later this year.