Ryesha Higgs | Dancer | Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
I took these portraits of Ryesha Higgs back in May this year when we first moved to Turks & Caicos, however I’ve been holding off posting them because some of the images have made their way to the Winter 2014/15 issue of the Turks & Caicos Magazine, which was launched last night in true style at the stunning Turtle Tail Estate. Along with the images I was able to tell the story of this incredible young lady who is only 16, yet passionately on her path to fulfilling her dreams. If you’re interested in reading more I’ve included the article that features in the magazine here:
As I watched my daughter follow the fluid movements in front of her with wide eyes, I felt compelled to photograph the incredible dancer that had galvanized her attention. It had been only a few months since we’d arrived on the island and I was delighted to have met Ryesha Higgs during a local dance performance. It was just days before she left the island for New York to chase her dream of becoming a professional in whatever form that may take “it doesn’t matter as long as I’m dancing,” she told me.
Beyond my desire to capture her inspiring form against the backdrop of the islands, I also wanted to learn how this 16-year-old had developed such unwavering focus and drive. And as a mother of a three-year-old girl who loved music and dance, I wanted to know what I could do to support my own daughter.
After a magical 5:30am photo shoot (Ryesha’s regular morning training time) and speaking to both her mother, Rose, and the co-founders of Turks & Caicos Friends of the Arts Foundation (TCFAF), Barbara and Mark Pankhurst, I soon realized numerous people had encouraged and supported Ryesha to be this determined young lady.
Ryesha grew up in Turks & Caicos, the second youngest of six siblings. Even as a toddler she had shown an interest in the arts and began formal dance lessons at the age of seven. At age 10, her dream of becoming a dancer was clear and Ryesha knew what was needed to get there.
One morning at 2am, Rose found Ryesha surrounded by books on her bed. Although she knew her parents were unable to afford the school fees, she had spent many late nights studying for the entrance exam to the British West Indies Collegiate (BWIC). She had downloaded the application form from the Internet and in those early morning hours quietly asked Rose if it would be possible to get the $100 application fee. Seeing her daughter’s determination, Rose completed the application. The dedication paid off for Ryesha whose impressive exam score eventually led to her obtaining a partial scholarship, her mother explained to me proudly.
The TCFAF was founded in 2002 to promote the appreciation of the visual and performing arts through education, encouragement and entertainment. Barbara and Mark, whom Ryesha’s family refer to as her “second mom and dad”, met Ryesha when she was seven.
“She had a personality that could fill a room with her natural ability to sing, dance and act like Shirley Temple,” they said. “She was a free spirit and had an air about her like she owned the world, and nothing could get in her way! And we decided that day to ensure that nothing did!”
With all this support, Ryesha attended Provo Primary and the BWIC, voice and piano lessons at Celestial Music Studios as well as dance classes at Rock It Hot Dance Studio and Bowen Dance Academy. For four years, during the summer, Ryesha attended TCTAF sponsored dance intensives in Philadelphia, New York, Saratoga Springs and Vail, which exposed her to other aspiring dancers, styles and a whole array of industry professionals.
If this is not impressive enough, she has now been accepted into the Alvin Ailey Independent Professional Studies Program in New York, which will “test her resolve,” says Barbara, “stretch her abilities in directions not yet met and push her beyond where she thought possible. But to have come this far at age 16 is already a remarkable accomplishment.”
Ryesha has had an incredible community of people supporting her, contributing their expertise and support in numerous ways. Alongside this, her parents have reminded her of the importance of staying constantly grounded and humble. This is something which is clear from her future plans. Becoming a professional dancer is only one part of Ryesha’s dream. “I want to come back home and open a facility for other young people to grow up and achieve success in the world of dance.”
And it was her mother’s words that stayed with me when I considered what I had learnt from them about supporting my daughter on her own journey.
“The best thing any parent can do to nurture their child’s gift is to maintain an open mind and show interest in the child’s talent, whatever it may be.” It is also apparent to me the power of the matrix of people and how together we can help an individual succeed when we all show up, taking our place and connecting with our own gifts.