Can a Jamaican salsa? . Should Christians dance to Salsa? Read more in our interview with Salsa Connection’s Anne Thornley-Brown.
Interviews

Jamaican Salsa Dancer and Actress

Anne Thornley-Brown, President of The Training Oasis, Inc, has over 20 years of experience in a variety of industries including wireless communications, banking, transportation, and film and television. She has an M.B.A. from York University in Toronto, Canada. Anne has facilitated workshops for executives, managers and professionals in Canada, the US, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore, and India.

What is unique about Anne’s approach is that her work is the perfect blend of solid business acumen and creativity. Anne draws her creativity from her experience as a professional actress and writer. You’ll recognize Anne from Louis Del Grande’s made-for-TV movie Sanity Clause and as Spike’s counselor on the International Emmy award winning TV series “Degrassi Junior High”. In 2002, you’ll see Anne in the “All Around the Town” episode of the Mary Higgins Clark Mysteries and as Nurse Royed on the “Complicated” episode of the TV series ‘Doc’ starring Billy Ray Cyrus. Anne has written ‘Back A Yad’, the screenplay for a feature length, coming of age story set to a reggae beat, and ‘Moneylenders’, a TV pilot witch goes behind the scenes in banking. Anne is a member of ACTRA and the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. She firmly believes that you don’t have to be boring to be businesslike. Her background in the arts and solid track record in the business world have earned her a reputation as an engaging speaker, innovative designer and unique facilitator with her own special flair. The Training Oasis, Inc. is an Ontario based management-consulting firm that specializes in executive and management team development.

INTERVIEW:

Q:How long have you been living in Canada?

A:Xavier, my family is from St. Mary (Port Maria area). I was born in Kingston (at Jubilee actually). My father migrated to Canada to study at McGill when I was a few months old and my mother joined him a year later. The first couple of years of my life were quite typical for a Jamaican. Like many Jamaican children, I lived with my grandmother in the country. I joined my parents in Montreal when I was 2 years old, the day after my sister was born actually. Apparently, when I stepped off the plane I was fluent in patois. After that my life was anything but typically Jamaican and, unfortunately, my patois is long gone. I grew up in Montreal and moved to Toronto after working in Jamaica for a while upon university graduation.

Q:Salsa, in my mind, seems about 100 miles away from Jamaica. Where did you learn to Salsa?

A:Well you’re right about salsa being so close and yet so far from Jamaica. I grew up hearing my father listening to salsa and other Latin American forms of music. He was always trying to find Cuban stations on his short-wave radio. When I finally went back to Jamaica on vacation I understood why. It amazed me how many Cuban stations we can pick up on the radio in Jamaica.

I have always loved to dance. However, I didn’t get exposed to reggae till I was 18 and on vacation in Jamaica with my family. The summer I turned 21, a Jamaican friend of mine taught me to dance reggae. (She used to tease me and say I danced like a White girl.) Over the years, I’ve been to Latin American dances and I have visited some Latin American countries. I started to pick up some of the moves. It was not until last summer that I first took salsa classes when I was on vacation at a resort in Northern Ontario. I’ve been taking lessons steadily since January of this year (2002).

Q:The group you are involved in is described as “multi-cultural group of evangelical (born again) Christian singles” who get together regularly for salsa dancing. What is people’s initial response when you tell them about Christian Salsa?

A:So far, people are really excited. I dropped off flyers at some of the churches last week and I was pleasantly surprised to see a small and enthusiastic group show up for our first get together. It was like a small United Nations with Christian singles from every corner of the globe Pakistan, Guyana, Egypt, Hong Kong, a few people from various parts of Europe, Canada and, of course, I was the Jamaican delegate. J We had a perfect mix of men and women and everyone had a partner for the dance lessons. Our e-list at Yahoo! Groups! has grown to over 30 in less than a week I am getting calls about it every day. In fact, I just received a call from a Jamaican man who had picked up one of the flyers I left at the Jamaican-Canadian Centre. I have also, through the grapevine, heard from several people that an Italian Canadian man who is a Christian and a salsa instructor wants to connect with me and offer free dance lessons for Christians. This is exciting. I want to create a safe atmosphere where Christians of all races can dance, fellowship and have fun without being humiliated. I also want to create an environment where they can feel comfortable bringing non-Christian friends without fear of them observing behaviour that does not honour the Lord. Things are beginning to take shape.

Q:Where did you come up with the unique idea for Christian Salsa dancing?

A:Well, it’s kind of a long story. Believe it or not, the idea came out of some very painful personal experiences and the encouragement I received from some other Christians. I originally got the idea of a dancing ministry from a Christian net friend with whom I have corresponded for almost 2 years. A few months ago, I attended a Christian dance put on by one of the Black churches in Toronto. It was a young crowd (late teens – early twenties). The music was great, reggae (including dancehall style), calypso and hip hop…. and all of it was Christian. A lot of the music had been created by artists who have come to know the Lord in the last few years. However, I was distressed to observe that there were about 20 young women to every young man. As I watched. I couldn’t help but be concerned that many of these young ladies would eventually leave the church in search of male companionship. I have seen this happen time and time again. Two of my close girlfriends, both Jamaican who grew up in solid Christian homes, ended up having affairs with married men and children out of wedlock. Fortunately, they have now re-committed their lives to the Lord. I didn’t leave the church but I did stumble and marry a non-Christian.

I shared with my net friend some of the challenges that Christian women who are not White face in Canada (more about that later). She encouraged me to think of doing some kind of a ministry, using dance. (By the way, my net friend is Canadian and a blue eyed, blonde. We have had deep discussions on a range of issues including ministry, careers, men, and racism. We live in the same town and I finally met her a few days ago when she asked me to help her with an area in which she had been called to minister.)

Another recent experience, which had an impact on me, was a beach volleyball event for Christian business people under 40. This time the crowd was predominantly White and single. It was a scenario that is becoming far too common in Toronto. There were 40 women and something like 6 men. I joked about it with some of the other women but we all admitted that we were finding these experiences painful and discouraging. One of the women, who was East Indian, spoke about a Christian singles cruise coming up that would involve dancing. The women at our table were from a variety of ethnic and racial groups – White, Black, Chinese, and East Indian. I shared with them some of the humiliating experiences that I have had and the shameful treatment which I have observed other women who are not White receive at Christian functions involving dancing. I warned them not to get their hopes up and risk being disappointed. These women thanked me for my honesty and then asked me if I would consider doing something to try to address the problem. They said that I seemed like a positive and energetic person who would do a phenomenal job of organizing events that were fun. When I shared with them the fact that I was going salsa dancing later that night, they pleaded with me to organize some salsa events for Christians. So, I thought and prayed about it. I bounced the idea off one of my Canadian Christian brothers who lives in Vancouver and he also encouraged me.

The last few weeks have been a turning point. They have been very discouraging for me personally. Some areas of my life that I have prayed about a lot and that should be going smoothly aren’t. It just wasn’t making any sense. So, I turned to the Bible for comfort and in search of answers. I started to study the lives of people in scripture who had experienced disappointments and delays in getting answers to prayer. When I came across Gideon’s experiences, this passage jumped out at me – Judges 6: 11- 14.

12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said: “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.”

13 “But sir, ” Gideon replies, ” if the Lord is with us why has all this happened to us?”

I have asked the same question many, many times. Here was God’s reply:

14 The Lord turned to him and said “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

It hit me that sometimes when we have problems that won’t go away, it is because many people are having the same problem. God is preparing us to do something about it. Sometimes, when there seem to be undue delays in seeing our prayers answered, it is because the Lord has a special mission for us. I began to realize that maybe there was a role that I could play in creating a safer more positive experience for Christian singles of all races.

Q:You spoke of painful experiences. What do you mean?

A:This is still an area of great vulnerability for me. Although it is difficult, I think it is important for me to speak about it as a lot of young women are experiencing similar pain. I want to encourage them to hang in there and not to stumble like I did. Even up until last night, I was on the phone trying to encourage a young Christian woman from Guyana who is going through similar experiences. She said, “I have given up on Christian guys”. I hear her and still struggle with feelings like that sometimes. I wish I could say I have all the answers but I don’t. All I know is that when we try to solve our problems by taking matters into our own hands, it ends in disaster. I have tried it. It doesn’t work. If we hang in there, God will work things out in his own way and time. I am still convinced of that even though God has never promised us that everything will fall neatly and painlessly into place. Here is my story:

My parents, like many other Jamaican parents, migrated to Canada in search of more opportunities for their children. In some respects, it has worked out but growing up as a member of a visible minority group in a predominantly White society has not been without its challenges. Honestly, I have prayed to the Lord about it as, at times, I have felt that my parents made a mistake coming to Canada. I mentioned earlier that my upbringing was anything but typically Jamaican. I grew up in an area of Montreal with a lot of Canadians as well as European and Chinese immigrants. There was only one other West Indian family who lived in the neighbourhood throughout my childhood. Two other families lived in the area briefly but quickly moved away. As a child, there was no problem that I can recall with respect to acceptance. We all played happily together on the streets of Montreal. Once we hit pre-teen years and we started having dancing at school parties, the problems began. Even though I was popular, active and had a lot of friends, when it came to these socials, I may as well have been a piece of the furniture. I was completely ignored and it hurt. I had no idea that colour was the problem. It never even crossed my mind as my parents, who are very religious, taught me that it is what is inside a person’s heart that counts.

My difficulties escalated from that point on. Throughout high school, I never had a single date. It was the same at church and school. I was very active but ignored completely when it came to dancing and dating. I concluded that I must be very ugly and my self-esteem plummeted. Despite the fact that I have been successful in my career and traveled widely, some of the insecurities are still there. When people are insensitive, they don’t realize that it can impact another human being for a lifetime. I didn’t find out what the “real” problem was until I was 18 and I was devastated. I realize that there is no excuse for disobeying scripture w.r.t, marrying non-Christians. Unfortunately, it was the insensitive and, at times, cruel behaviour of men who called themselves Christians that eventually caused me to stumble. I was disappointed, humiliated and deeply hurt that Christian men could not see past my colour. I never expected to encounter discrimination in Christian circles.

The summer I turned 21, I finally started to meet some Jamaican guys. They showed a great interest in me and that was a refreshing change after being ignored for so long. Unfortunately, none of them were Christians. I was fed up with all of the rejection I had faced and, just like the young lady I mentioned earlier, I gave up on Christian guys and started dating non-Christians. I eventually married one. The marriage, which was a disaster, ended in divorce as our values and goals were not in sync at all. I had been disobedient and I suffered the consequences.

Unfortunately, since my divorce, I have discovered that little has changed in Christian circles here in Canada. With the exception of 3 men, one of whom has become a dear Christian brother, Christian men still completely ignore me and other women who are not White at Christian functions involving dancing. This is very humiliating. In the Toronto area, during the last couple of years, I have personally attended 2 Christian singles cruises, 1 Christian singles banquet where there was dancing, one barn dance, and in 2001, one square dance for Christian singles. In each case, I was completely ignored. In the case of the banquet, the men at my table got up, went to other tables and asked White women to dance. At the cruises, the other Black women present were also ignored. One year, there were no Black guys on the boat. The next year, there was only 1 Black man on the boat. He took turns asking the Black women to dance. Unfortunately, when the white women saw that he was a good dancer, they had no hesitation in asking him to dance. The Black women were left sitting there like fools. Eventually, some Black women got up and danced together. At the square dance, a mixer, I started with a female partner, as there weren’t enough men to go around. After mixing, we were told that the man we were facing was to be our new partner. My partner had a horrified look on his face. While we were forming squares, he abandoned me in the middle of the dance floor like a dog as soon as my back was turned…no fooling. I couldn’t believe it. It was so embarrassing. In each case when I spoke with the organizers about what had taken place they either tried to deny that a problem existed or just seemed helpless to do anything about it. Remember, these were all Christian events.

I hope that by creating events that are multi-cultural and multi-racial by design, I can spare other women humiliating experiences like the ones I have described.

Q:There are many Christians who are against dancing and may see this as “un-Christian”. What would your response be to them?

A:Yes, a lot of Christians are still against it. In fact, when I was growing up, most evangelical churches were against dancing and movies. I remember it well and they were right in many respects. There are certain types of dancing that are definitely not honouring to the Lord. In the Jamaican context, one example I can think of is “rubbing”. Based on my understanding of scripture, this is totally inappropriate between couples that are unmarried and should be confined to the privacy of the bedroom for married couples. The “slack” lyrics of some of our reggae songs are also inappropriate for anyone who calls themselves a Christian. Some of the shameful treatment that is meted out to women at dances is also unChristlike (for example, the suggestive remarks, the practice of pressuring women for sex and trying to get them to “come across” as we Jamaicans call it.)

Let’s put this in context. In the Bible, David danced before the Lord and there are many instances in which the children of Israel praised the Lord and celebrated through dance. Read 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 30:11, Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4, Eccl. 3:4, and Jer. 31:13. Luke 15:25, in the story of the prodigal son told by our Lord, refers to dancing as part of a celebration. Sure, Satan can take anything and pollute it. He has done it with sex and he has done it with dancing. We need to redeem the dance and restore it to its proper use – for celebration and to praise and honour God.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard. I address this next set of remarks particularly to Christian men as it is still usually the man who makes the first move in asking a woman to dance. Christian men need to make sure that they treat their sisters in Christ with respect and sensitivity at all times including dances. Women are not playthings but human beings with feelings. At dances, it always surprises me how many Christian men have forgotten some of the basics when it comes to common courtesy. If women who they do not consider to be “babes” are sitting there, they just ignore them. They don’t even try to be polite. Fellas, just because you dance with a woman does not mean you have to marry her or even date her. People come to Christian events involving dancing to relax and have fun and fellowship in an environment that doesn’t have some of the negative aspects of dancing to which I referred earlier. When you treat a woman rudely or ignore her for a whole evening it hurts. If she enjoys dancing, she will eventually go to non-Christian settings where there will be a lot of temptation and men who have intentions that are not honourable “hitting on her”. What are you going to tell the Lord when He points out to you that it is, in part, your lack of sensistivity that drove her there?

I think part of the problem is that too many guys seem to think they have to be attracted to a woman to dance with her. They base their image of the ideal woman on what they see on TV or in magazines (including the pornography that some men devoured before they were Christians). Women who are not White feel the rejection keenly as they are so far removed from the ideal North American beauty standard – a skinny but well endowed woman with long Blonde hair and blue eyes. The Bible says we are not to conform to the standards of the world but so many men base their image of what’s desireable in a woman on what is fed to them by the media in order to sell products. The sad part is that, in terms of being truly colour blind at dances, I have found that non-Christian men behave in a much more Christ-like manner than Christians. There is no way that this should be the case.

It amazes me that so many men haven’t caught on to the fact that the photos they see in magazines are air brushed and digitally altered. Also, the models have just had their hair and make up done. They don’t walk around like that all the time. I work in the media, as I am a professional actress. I have also done some modeling. At a photo or TV shoot, hairdressers and make-up artists are always present on set. Every few takes, there are touch ups. What the lighting, make-up artists and hairdressers don’t fix, gets corrected by the airbrush and the computer. I chuckle to myself when I realize that if men met some of the models they are worshipping and on which they base their ideals of beauty, they would be VERY disappointed. Models and actresses are only human with their share of imperfections.

Q:How many times have you been to Cuba and have you every performed there?

A:I have been to Cuba once and I loved it. I attended a performance at The Tropicana, a huge nightclub in a beautiful garden under the stars. I was blown away by the music, the dancing and the costumes. Alas, I am just learning to dance so I don’t perform yet. My instructor, Ana Mechado, who will be the instructor at many of our Christian Salsa Connection events, was the lead dancer at The Tropicana. She is Black and Cuban. I think of her as an energetic ball of fire. Her enthusiasm is infectious and she has a knack for making salsa fun and breaking it down into easy to master steps

Q:Do you have any plans to export Salsa to the Jamaican Carnival?

A: Hey now that’s an idea.

Q:What advice would you give upcoming dancers and performers?

A: Well, I guess if you’re just starting out, relax, have fun and take some classes. Women should wear high-heeled shoes so that they can spin easily. Men should wear an enclosed shoe that has a sole that will slide easily across the floor. Try to get out regularly to practice.

Q:Is there anything would like to say to the Jamaican community worldwide?

A:Yes. Ever since our ancestors were captured and forced into slavery, we have not had it easy. In fact, some of the painful personal experiences which I shared with you earlier are nothing compared to the deplorable treatment our ancestors received. Think of it, they were forced into hard labour without pay. Our people were whipped and scarred. Our women were sexually exploited and raped. Yet, so many of our ancestors found comfort and solace through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and by listening to and, once it was legal for us to learn to read, reading the word of God. (To get a glimpse of this, watch the movie Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Avery Brookes or Amistad.) Today, I think that many of us have forgotten that. We have believed Satan’s lie that Christianity is a White man’s religion. Not true. We who suffer more need Christ and his power even more than people who have life easy. We also need to forgive the people who treated us so terribly and their descendants. Harboring bitterness will not serve us or them. When I graduated from university, I returned to Jamaica and worked as a social worker. It was an enlightening experience in which I discovered my roots so to speak. I also had an opportunity to reach out to some of our fellow Jamaicans who are living in deplorable conditions in some of the rougher parts of Kingston. Again, the hurt and pain which I have experiences are nothing compared to the suffering that they endure daily. We need to reach out our hand to help our Jamaican brothers and sisters who are living in poverty. The bottom line is that God will not bless our nation until we honour, obey and serve Him by loving our neighbour as ourselves. Whatever painful situations and problems we are to face as individuals and as a community, He will sustain us. We need to return to Him.

About the author

Xavier Murphy