Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 15th 2013 Contents A23
September 15, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
sepote and cashew were hardly
heard from the stage.
Apart from presenting a most
entertaining programme her sub-
tle street-cry said she was going
to put Trinidad life and culture on
a pedestal, come hell or high wa-
And the persistence paid off. For
throughout the 1930s and 1940s
Beryl pressed on, working to turn
At the same time she contin-
ued her rigorous training, pre-
paring herself for the role of an
accomplished folk dancer. She
did not believe in depending on
natural talent to take her through,
but subjected herself to vigorous
physical training while she sought
all there was to know on the theo-
ry of her craft.
At the time the general opinion
was that one needed no special
training to "indulge" in folk danc-
Beryl was intent on changing all
this and at the same time setting
herself the highest standards.
In 1938 she took a folklore
course at Columbia University in
New York, and on her return in
1940 she went back again, con-
stantly seeking perfection and to
Beryl McBurnie began very
early to make a difference, and
it might be said that this was in
spite of her dance teacher.
Beryl, in looking back, her-
self said, "She began introducing
me to the Scottish reel and other
British folk dances, but as a child
I was more drawn to the dances I
was seeing around me and which
seemed to be part of me."
And that was where it started---
the love and joy of Trinidadian life
put on the stage.
Beryl, in that interview said
it was abundantly clear that the
middle class during her childhood
and adolescence --- the 1920s and
30s --- was definitely unapprecia-
tive not only of Trinidad folklore
but of creole culture.
"They liked nothing that was
local," she said. "For example, if
you were going to talk about fruits
from the stage you would have to
talk about apples and pears, etc.
Not mangoes, and pomme
cytheres. And if you were talking
of the weather, well, snow and ice
would be in order.
"I might be exaggerating, but
anyone with any claim to refine-
ment had his dreams in European
life. We were brainwashed to that
Thus the young Beryl McBurnie,
a natural artist, knew that she
could not find true fulfilment un-
less she explored the folk rythms
and the folk dances around her,
and at the same time, even though
she was almost at the height of
her career, it must have hurt her
deeply that in Trinidad, where she
was born, the whole of the middle
and upper classes tended to ig-
nore her work.
But she persisted. In one of
her earliest presentations, Street
Cry," she highlighted the fruits
and delicacies around her, giving a
new angle to the custom of crying
out the wares in the street---the
names of fruits like sapodilla and
caimit, mango, pomerac, mami-
"reach for the stars."
That was the period when she
became well-known in New York
as La Belle Rosette.
She returned to the local scene
in 1945 but the went to the Sor-
bonne in Paris, and also spent
some time in England.
She followed this up by going
to do research work into Afro folk
forms in the French and Dutch
Guianas (Cayenne and Suriname)
and in Brazil.
In 1948 she opened a little the-
atre in Woodbrook called the Lit-
tle Carib, which became a show-
piece for folk dance and other folk
performances, and which often
featured the dancing of Boscoe
Holder and of Beryl herself, the
incomparable Belle Rosette.
By that time Beryl had already
made a difference.
T&T folk culture was no longer
ashamed of itself: through people
with Beryl's guts and determina-
tion, local people felt confident
and proud of what was their very
In the political days that were
developing Beryl contributed to
making the country ready to face
a future in an independent T&T.
The heroine of the dance
Beryl Mc Burnie --- Reached for the stars
Beryl Mc Burnie
In celebration of Independence,
we present a series written specially
for the T&T Guardian about people who
made a difference to the nation's history
and its future.
CORNERSTONES by Michael Anthony
Beryl Mc Burnie
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