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Defying the odds

Observer staff reporter

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The world of professional dancing is a competitive on, but dancer Paige Fraser is undaunted, despite her challenges.

Born in the United States to Jamaican parents, Fraser is a trained ballet and modern dance artiste who has worked and performed with Alvin Ailey II — the adjunct company of the renowned American dance outfit, as well as Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and Visceral Dance, both based in Chicago.

In addition to the obvious challenges of being a dancer of colour, Fraser has scoliosis — is a medical condition in which a person's spine has a sideways curve. The curve is usually “S”- or “C”-shaped. Mild scoliosis does not typically cause problems, while severe cases can interfere with breathing.

“I have pretty much been dancing all my life. I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 13 and for some this could have meant an end to the dream of becoming a professional dancer, but that was not going to be my story,” the 27-year-old told the Jamaica Observer.

“Instead I just saw it as another of the obstacles that I had to face head-on in pursuit of my dreams. I just had a 'never say never' approach. I think scoliosis just built my resilience. As a dancer of colour I am well aware of the challenges that I will face in this industry, so if I am not chosen for a job or cast in a particular role I just have to learn from that experience and move on,” she explained.

Her focus despite the odds has been paying off. In 2016, Fraser was the recipient of the Princess Grace Award for dance. This is a national programme in the United States dedicated to identifying and assisting emerging theatre, dance, and film artistes who are at the outset of their careers or at early stages of professional development. The initiative works in conjunction with nominating schools and non-profit companies to fill voids in the artistic community through scholarships, apprenticeships and fellowships, giving emerging artistes the financial assistance and encouragement to focus on artistic excellence. monetary support for the nominat organisations eases fund-raising challenges, directing resources toward the creative process.

She has also been named among the 'Top 25 to Watch' by Dance magazine — an industry publication first published in 1927.

It is that sense of determination, focus and drive, in addition to her technical expertise, which Fraser hopes to share with young Jamaicans aspiring to enter the world of dance. During a recent trip to Jamaica, she conducted two workshops in modern dance, in the second city, with young dancers at Montego Bay High and Mount Alvernia High schools.

“It was such a wonderful experience, so eye-opening and humbling to see how open these youngsters are... they were like sponges just soaking up all that I was sharing. Seeing them so talented with limited resources was also extremely humbling. The exchange with these dancers who are raw, talented, and have a hunger for dance was so nice to see. These schools don't have studios with proper floors yet there is so much energy... it was so inspiring. It makes me want to give back even more, so I am preparing myself to make the relationship much more formal with young dancers in Jamaica,” she noted.

Fraser also hopes to use the opportunity to create awareness about scoliosis, and dreams of working with one of Jamaica's famous sons who has also defied the condition.

“In the new year I want to focus on starting my foundation. One of the platforms will of course be scoliosis awareness. I hope to make contact with Usain Bolt, who also has the condition. I just want people with scoliosis to know you can achieve your dreams.”