Beryl McBurnie

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Dr. Beryl "La Belle Rosette" McBurnie
Beryl McBurnie.jpg
Born Beryl McBurnie
(1915-11-02)November 2, 1915
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Died March 3, 2000(2000-03-03) (aged 84)
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Nationality Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago
Education Columbia University, New York
Known for Dance, Choreography, Dance Instruction
Notable work(s) The Little Carib Theatre
Movement Promotion of Dance, Arts and Culture of Trinidad & Tobago
Awards Doctor of Laws, The University of the West Indies; Humming Bird Gold Medal, The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Trinity Cross, The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Patron(s) Katharine Dunham, Martha Graham, Paul Robeson, Sam Manning, Carmen Miranda, Charles Weidman, Louise Crane, Doris Humphrey

Beryl Eugenia McBurnie (2 November 1915 – 3 March 2000)[1] was a Trinidadian dance legend. She established the Little Carib Theatre, and promoted the culture and arts of Trinidad and Tobago as her life's work. She helped to promote the cultural legitimacy of Trinidad and Tobago that would ultimately arm its people to handle independence psychologically and healthily.[2] McBurnie dedicated her life to dance, becoming one of the greatest influences on modern Trinidadian popular culture.

Early life[edit]

Beryl McBurnie began dancing as a child, performing regularly in dances and plays at Tranquility Girls' School, Port-of-Spain. In her youth she performed Scottish reels, jigs, and other British folk dances that the teacher instructed. Though she appreciated their beauty, she yearned for more. In her teens, she decided to focus on promoting "the emotions of the folk, and which in some cases gave an insight into the history and the way of life of the ordinary people."[3]

Rise to prominence[edit]

McBurnie trained at the Mausica Teachers' College and started her career teaching in Port-of-Spain. She instead decided to pursue her dream career in folk-dance after touring the country with Trinidad's leading folklorist, Andrew Carr. Many melodies and folk dances that would have been lost to Trinidad and Tobago were rescued by McBurnie and promoted in her dancing. In 1938, she enrolled at Columbia University in New York and studied dance with dance pioneer Martha Graham. She also worked with American modern dancer and choreographer Charles Weidman, African-American choreographer Katharine Dunham, and taught Trinidadian dance at the New Dance Group studio.

In 1940, McBurnie enjoyed a brief return to Trinidad. She presented A Trip Through the Tropics at the Empire Theatre, Port of Spain. McBurnie combined Caribbean and Brazilian dances with interpretations of New York and modern dances, performed to the music of Wagner, Beethoven and Bach, to a packed audience. Her performances sold out.

She returned to New York in 1941 and stayed until 1945. In 1941, she danced and sang with Sam Manning and his ensemble, in the production of the only known calypso "soundies," film clips made for film jukeboxes located in restaurants and bars. Performing under the stage name of "La Belle Rosette", McBurnie was booked to perform at "coffee concerts" at the Museum of Modern Art by philanthropist Louise Crane, then a young theatrical agent. The poet Hilda Doolittle wrote a very positive review of her "coffee concert" showing.[4] After her "coffee concert" performances, "La Belle Rosette" performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the 92nd Street Y alongside American dancers Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham. While performing, McBurnie continued to teach at the studio of the New Dance Group where, in 1942, the Trinidadian dancer Pearl Primus was one of her students. In June 1942 McBurnie replaced Carmen Miranda in the hit Broadway musical revue Sons o' Fun at the Winter Garden Theatre.[4] The following year, she made a film appearance with the Trinidadian vocalist Sam Manning in Quarry Road.[5]

Creation of The Little Carib Theatre[edit]

McBurnie left the United States in 1945 at the height of her popularity in New York to become a dance instructor with the Trinidad and Tobago government's Education Department in 1945. In 1948 she established the first permanent folk-dance company and theatre in Trinidad. Her first show was Bele (pronounced Bay-lay) pre-carnival 1948 at her newly opened Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook, Port of Spain. Paul Robeson laid the cornerstone of the building during a tour of the Caribbean in 1948.[6] Among the many highlights of her work from this period were Talking Drums; Carnival Bele, in which the j'ouvert ballet danced to a steel band; Sugar Ballet; Caribbean Cruise; and Parang. She is considered to be one of the foremothers of Parang music.[5]

By the 1960s, the work of the Little Carib Dance Company had been recognised and celebrated overseas, performing at such events as the Caribbean Festival of Arts in Puerto Rico in 1952, the Jamaica Tercentenary Celebrations in 1955 and the opening of the Federal Parliament of Toronto in April 1958. In fact, the celebration in Canada in 1958 would influence the way Caribbean culture was understood in Canada. Her performances in Canada helped pave the way for Canada's Caribana festival in the 1960s.[7] In 1965 the Little Carib building, no longer safe in Port-of-Spain, had to be closed down and was re-built in three years. However the permanent dance troupe had disbanded and McBurnie instead focused her energies on teaching children.

Recognition and passing[edit]

In 1950 McBurnie was appointed the director of dance in the Education Department. The British Council sent her on a dance tour of England and Europe. In 1959 she was appointed OBE, and in 1969 she was presented with the Hummingbird Gold Medal of Trinidad and Tobago.[8] In 1976 the University of the West Indies conferred on her the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and in America in 1978 she was honoured along with Katharine Dunham and Pearl Primus at the Twentieth Anniversary Gala of the Alvin Ailey Theater. In 1989, McBurnie received the Trinity Cross, the highest national award in Trinidad and Tobago then, for Promotion of the Arts. She died on 30 March 2000.[9]


  1. ^ "McBurnie, Beryl", Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History.
  2. ^ The Trinidad Express, 12 April 2000. "People of the Century: Beryl McBurnie"
  3. ^ Biography of Beryl McBurnie, NALIS Trinidad and Tobago
  4. ^ a b "The Flowering Of La Belle Rosette.". 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  5. ^ a b Obituary by Stephen Bourne, London Independent, 8 July 2000.
  6. ^ Pearl Connor, "Beryl McBurnie" (obituary), The Guardian, London, 29 April 2000.
  7. ^ Trevor Carmichael, Passport to the Heart: Reflections on Canada-Caribbean Relations. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishing, 2001.
  8. ^ "National Awards Recipients 1969 - 1979", NALIS.
  9. ^ "McBurnie lived to dance | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper". 2012-01-04. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 

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