Jihan Cooke is happiest when dancing and teaching dance
BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Her experiences as a dancer and performer have their roots in Kingston, and her professional profile gives details of international travels spent perfecting her skills.
However, when Jihan Cooke, a mother of three boys, chose Mandeville as her home almost three years ago on the basis that it was "family friendly", she was not yet aware of the potential the central Jamaica town held for continued honing of her craft.
She founded the Lines Dance Institute in 2010 and is now on a path to help develop the art here.
"I was pleasantly surprised to come to Mandeville and find this opportunity. I think Mandeville has great potential for the arts. There is a market here," she told the Jamaica Observer Central.
Cooke teaches a fusion of dance moves — including ballet, tap, modern, jazz, and folk, mainly from Belair High School's auditorium — and is passionate about passing on the craft to her male and female charges as young as two-years-old.
"When I think of myself, I am dance. It is a way for me to get my thoughts out. It is something that I am very passionate about. I am an artistic person (and) I am a creative person. I feel happiest when I am dancing and teaching dance," said Cooke.
With four recitals in Mandeville to date, she is focused on making each presentation better.
"Recitals are like the grand prize," she said.
Cooke said she has been involved in the arts, and dance in particular, from very early in her life. Being an energetic child, she was given the opportunity to take part in the Kaleidoscope summer schools at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Starting at 12 years old as a dancer with the Cathy Levy Players (formerly Little People and Teen Players Club) she got her taste of the international stage by travelling to places such as Florida, New York and Cayman with the group.
At 15, she enrolled at Edna Manley College and completed a three-year diploma programme in dance which increased her technical knowledge of various dance forms. Since then, Cooke has done a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at the State University of New York, a certificate in dance at The Alvin Ailey School in New York, professional development courses in areas outside of dance, and has started a Masters in Business Administration at Baruch College in New York.
Her work, she said, also includes choreography and performances with groups such as the National Pantomime, L'Acadco, Father HoLung and Friends, the Jamaica School of Dance, and she has appeared in a Jamaica Public Service print advertisement and in a television commercial for Jamaica National Money Transfer. She is also a member of the National Dance Theatre Company in Kingston.
Through dance, Cooke said that she has learnt soft skills such as discipline and how to be focused and driven. She is now set on sharing her gift, and those skills with persons in Mandeville and its environs by having her students perform not only on shows locally, but also to tour with them outside of Jamaica.
"I think as we are growing and reaching out into the community we can demonstrate that we have a good product," Cooke added.
Cooke has toured the United States extensively and went to Bermuda and Italy as a member of the New York-based Garth Fagan Dance INC. She was also a freelance dancer on an independent Afro-modern project in Brussels, Belgium with Dunia Dance Company.
Her stints as a dance instructor include working in Kingston at the Edna Manley College, the Ashe Academy, In Motion and Desiree's Dance Studio and Praise Academy of Dance.