Beryl McBurnie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Dr. Beryl "La Belle Rosette" McBurnie
Beryl McBurnie.jpg
Born Beryl McBurnie
(1913-11-02)November 2, 1913
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Died March 30, 2000(2000-03-30) (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 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 1913 – 3 March 2000)[1] was a Trinidadian dancer. 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]

At the age of 8 years she was invited to recite the “Sycamore tree” for a Charity Concert in the district. Soon after that she set about gathering children from the neighborhood to form a group which would present concerts. The first concert planned did not take place, but she and her friends tried again, borrowing chairs from the neighbors. This time the performance was well appreciated and this successful venture encouraged her to continue.

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]

On leaving Tranquility Girls School, Beryl McBurnie became a teacher and used this opportunity to engage in the extracurricular activities surrounding the preparation for school concerts, play productions and operettas. She danced at every opportunity that came her way at the same time becoming quite accomplished at piano and in the use if voice.[4]

Beryl McBurnie became interested in the local folk forms and was given insight and encouragement by one of Trinidad’s leading Folklorists-the late Andrew Carr. He took her on field trips to rural areas to observe the dances and customs of the folks. Needless to say that whenever her offerings started to show signs of infusion of these folk dances, some of the elders and even her peers would be appalled.[4]

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 studied Eurhythmics with Elisa Findlay- as student of the 'Eurthymics' by Emile Jacques Dalcroze. McBurnie also taught Trinidadian dance at the New Dance Group[4]

Beryl McBurnie was the first person to promote primitive and Caribbean dance. Not Katherine Dunham. Beryl, in 1938 when Katherine Dunham arrived in New York from Chicago, taught her privately the rhythms and dances of the West Indies. During these sessions she taught Ms Dunham ritual chants and from the Shango of Trinidad and dances such as the Bongo- a dance done at wakes and Kalinda- a dance between two opponents using sticks in a mock battle.[4]

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. During that time she began teaching classes in West Indian dance and she organized the material in an educational yet attractive package which she used in a series of lecture demonstrations and lecture recitals.[4] She also 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. She became a popular teacher at the New Dance Group, where in 1942 Pearl Primus was a student. Pearl Primus, like Katherine Dunham studied West Indian dance from Beryl McBurnie and joined the group which appeared at various venues in New York.[4]

In 1941 she assumed a pseudonym name “La Bella Rosette” and performed professionally under the stage name. 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.[5] 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. . In June 1942 McBurnie replaced Carmen Miranda in the hit Broadway musical revue Sons o' Fun at the Winter Garden Theatre. A review of her performance in the People voice of New York, a reporter wrote “ “Belle Rosette the talented Trinidadian performer scheduled to take Carmen Miranda’s role in the hit show Son O’Fun...amply proved to an enthusiastic audience at the Y.M.H.A on Sunday evening, that she has ‘what it takes’-in the Broadway parlance.[4] Between 1942-1945, Beryl made several appearances at places such as Hunter College,Henry Street Settlement Playhouse in New York, Madison Square Gardens, The Village Gate and New York City College.[4] During that time, she also completed two further study periods at Columbia Where she studied Dramatic Arts, Painting, Music and other Creative Arts course which she considered important for her work.[4]

[5] The following year, she made a film appearance with the Trinidadian vocalist Sam Manning in Quarry Road.[6]

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.[7] 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.[6]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]


  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 c d e f g h i Cradle of Caribbean Dance by Molly Ahye
  5. ^ a b "The Flowering Of La Belle Rosette.". 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  6. ^ a b Obituary by Stephen Bourne, London Independent, 8 July 2000.
  7. ^ Pearl Connor, "Beryl McBurnie" (obituary), The Guardian (London), 29 April 2000.
  8. ^ Trevor Carmichael, Passport to the Heart: Reflections on Canada-Caribbean Relations. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishing, 2001.
  9. ^ "National Awards Recipients 1969 – 1979", NALIS.
  10. ^ "McBurnie lived to dance | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper". 2012-01-04. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 

External links[edit]