Cayisha Graham is a dance tutor in St Tiernan’s Community School, Balally, in Dublin. Teaching dance for the past 10 years, she tells how her Jamaican background has influenced her
Although I was born in England, I am half-Jamaican and half-Italian and growing up in Jamaica aged from four to seven had a massive influence on me musically. In Jamaica, you are reared on music, you live and breathe it, it’s a way of life. From a very young age, children have great rhythm, largely because they are exposed to dance and music all the time.
When I moved from Jamaica to Ireland, it was a huge culture shock and took me a while to settle in. My taste in music was very different from anything that was going on in Ireland and I don’t think anybody had really even heard of Caribbean music back then. In my family, I think dance and music were a way for us to bond, so you would often find the whole family in the kitchen breaking out the moves in our own way of togetherness. And that has not changed to this day!
In school, I connected with friends through various bands that we had in common. I can remember choreographing for local talent shows - I really took them and myself so seriously! I would get a crew together to learn dances from my favourite bands - Steps, Five, Spice Girls, you name it we had the dance for it (cringe). That’s really where it all began.
In the now
I used to take classes in the Dance Theatre of Ireland and I remember being in awe of my dance teacher and thinking he was the coolest person ever. As a teenager, I was going through all the highs and lows of teen angst. Then, I realised that dancing gave me confidence - it was my escape from worries and stress. When you’re dancing, you’re in the now, there is no room for thinking about anything else. I found it was like a form of meditation.
Later, I did a dance course and experienced the life of a dancer. It was very challenging but very rewarding and I learned a lot about myself. When I finished college, I got a job as a teacher in the Dance Theatre of Ireland. When I passed the audition, I was in shock because I found the place so daunting. This is where all my idols taught me and, now, little old me has the chance to follow in their footsteps.
Teaching in the Dance Theatre of Ireland is almost like coming full circle. And so many doors have opened up for me, I really have Loretta Yurrick and Robert Connor, the artistic directors of the Dance Theatre to thank for that. Their belief in me gave me the inspiration to push my boundaries and this is an inspiration I try to pass on to all my students, including those on my DancerSize night class in St Tiernan’s Community School.
The job is so rewarding when you see the difference it can make to a person’s life. I often see students coming in very shy, timid and no confidence. After a few classes, they come out of their shells and are full of confidence. I try to create an environment that’s happy and safe. From my youngest student to my oldest student who is now 78, dance is timeless and it’s a beautiful thing to watch them flourish regardless of their age.
Dream come true
I also sing and dance in my own band - I feel I made my childhood dreams my reality. I couldn’t ask for a better job. It is true what they say - choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
As long as you believe in yourself, you can make your own dreams come true too.
This is what dance means to me:
Dance is freedom
Dance is expression
Dance is empowerment
Dance is life