Male ballet dancer breaking barriers
From Waterford in Portmore to the Kingston 12 community of Craig Town, Javal Matthew Paul Lewis has been chasing his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer.
Lewis, 22, is presently one of the few actively practising ballet dancers with the 55-year-old National Dance Theatre Company.
Males tend to shun ballet dancing because the movements, footwear, and clothing, especially, leotards and tights, are considered effeminate.
"At a young age I was introduced to ballet. I liked the aesthetic of a ballet dancer," Lewis told The Gleaner. "I know I look good doing it."
Lewis is determined to be better at ballet and become a role model for young adults, both men and women, who are afraid to give it a try.
"If you have a dream to pursue dance you should go with it and not listen to negativity," he insisted.
When The Gleaner visited Lewis in Craig Town recently, residents were not only supportive, but awestruck at him being outfitted in tights. He has been given the nicknames 'ballet' or 'ballet yute' by a few, while others said, "him body really look like a dancer own".
"A lot of persons have an idea that I dance, (they don't know) but the genre of dance. Any judgemental behaviour is from people I don't know or don't see ... I hardly have time to be on the road."
Born to dance
Lewis has endured the stereotyping of society because he feels that he was born to dance. Part of his early encouragement came from his father, who sourced the funds for him to attend the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts where he is now a third-year student.
"My mom was the total opposite. When I just started dancing, I would practise routines in the living room to get familiar with them, and she would say, 'dancing nah guh do nothing for you'."
His mother still offered support, but thought dancing should be kept as a hobby, only to be followed up after earning a first degree in social sciences or similar discipline.
Over the years, Lewis has also been recruited to work at shows and assist with teaching seasonal dance sessions. This provides a small income.
The greatest challenge has been saving for tuition each year, but he has recently been given a mini scholarship to attend classes at a private dance studio located in the Kingston 6 area and work towards completing the Royal Academy of Dance intermediate examinations successfully. His studies at the Edna Manley College, where he is reading for a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in performance and choreography, have been put on pause due to financial issues.
Lewis aspires to work with the Complexions Contemporary Ballet company in New York and return to Jamaica with the knowledge and experience to start a school for dancers where the students can also complete other remedial studies.