Pioneering Jamaican dancer, choreographer, educator and cultural icon Barbara Requa passed away on February 22, at the age of 90. As a founding member of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2022, Requa helped lay the groundwork for post-Independence dance theatre on the island. She was also a founding member (and later, Dean) of the School of Dance, which has since become part of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts, and of Dance and the Child International.
Jamaican-born dancer Lisa Wilson, who now lectures at the University of Cape Town, posted a heartfelt tribute on Facebook, where she recalled Requa's lofty principles, wit, “genuine heart,” and “calming presence”:
If you asked me who I admired in dance in Jamaica, easily Barbara Requa's name would be mentioned. Mi spirit jus tek to di lady. She was a beautiful dancer back in the day and her pioneering work in dance education in Jamaica is unparalleled. Her life was totally dedicated to giving dance space and place in the education system and in people's lives. I truly admired her passion for dance. In many of our conversations she would get teary speaking about dance and its value to us as a people. She had achieved so much yet, she was still so humble. She seemed to embody the dance administrator-educator-performer-mentor-mother-grandmother-wife roles seamlessly. I truly admired her ability to juggle all those identities and to juggle them well. In my eyes she was all woman.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange tweeted her condolences:
Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the late Barbara Requa, especially to the @NDTCJAMAICA family.
This educator/dancer/choreographer was an inspiration to a generation of Jamaican creatives and many others from across the Anglophone Caribbean. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/IetfgJqa13
— Hon.Olivia Grange (@Babsy_grange) February 23, 2023
Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts shared:
We pause to pay tribute to Dancer Extraordinaire, Visionary and co-founder of the School of Dance, Barbara Requa. She served the College in a number of roles; Dean for the Performing Arts School and Acting Principal. pic.twitter.com/bL5dNRHdwp
— Edna Manley College (@EMCJamaica) February 23, 2023
Requa grew up on the Appleton Estate in St. Elizabeth, where her father, Henry Grant, was a manager. Dancing was her dream, but she also studied music at high school and beyond, for eight years, with the piano as her instrument of choice. Throughout her life, she was a lover of jazz and classical music.
Requa’s creative career took shape during her years studying at St. Andrew's High School for Girls in Kingston. At 17, she fulfilled her dream and joined the dance school of the legendary Ivy Baxter, who developed the “barefoot” style of dancing in the 1950s. An early member of this group was Rex Nettleford who, along with Eddy Thomas, co-founded the NDTC in 1962, the year Jamaica gained its Independence from Britain. Requa was therefore in inspirational company from the start of her dancing career.
In 1955, she continued her education in dance composition at the Dartford College of Physical Education, as well as the Laban Technique at Goldsmith's College in London, UK. On returning to Jamaica, she was invited by her alma mater, St. Andrew's, to teach physical education and dance. She also taught at The Mico University College, a teacher training college. Known for her graceful style and remarkable energy in dancing, she joined Nettleford in performing in the National Pantomime's 1959, 1960 and 1961 productions. In 1963, her role in Nettleford's “Woman in Dialogue for Three” was highly acclaimed. Many other memorable performance followed. Between 1982 and 1995, she choreographed five major works for the company, one of which (“Treadmill,”) was remounted by the NDTC in 2022:
NDTC 60 OPENS FRIDAY, JULY 22 AT THE LITTLE THEATRE: Don't miss the special remount of Barbara Requa's ‘Treadmill’ (1985) during this season's presentation to be danced by principal dancer Kerry-Ann Henry with Mark Phinn, Marlon D. Simms and Patrick Earle. pic.twitter.com/GMFxkzNEoN
— NDTC of Jamaica (@NDTCJAMAICA) July 8, 2022
On its website, the company added:
To the NDTC, Mrs. Requa brought technical versatility and a sound knowledge of movements as well as performing style. Her strength is rooted in a deep understanding of the dancer’s instrument and the possible range of movement in space, due in part to her Laban studies.
Requa had a lifelong passion for education. The dance classes that she started for children at her home eventually evolved into the Jamaica School of Dance, which began operating in 1970 at Kingston's Little Theatre. It was a partnership among Requa and two fellow dance pioneers, Bert Rose and Sheila Barnett. The dance school would later become one of four departments at the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts. Requa also traveled extensively, teaching at various international workshops and seminars.
After more than 30 years at Edna Manley College, Requa retired as Dean in 2004. However, she continued to teach and mentor young people, firmly believing that dance should be integrated into Jamaica's school curriculum at both primary and secondary levels. She also continued to work with the College's alumni fund, which she founded in 1998. On her retirement, she received the Order of Distinction, a national honour, as well as a Centenary Medal and a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for her contribution to the arts. In 2019, she was recognised by the Rex Nettleford Foundation for her work, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Edna Manley College in 2022.
Last year, podcaster Tenement Yaad Media celebrated Requa's career for Caribbean Women's History Month:
The Yaad celebrates March as #CaribbeanWomenHistoryMonth & to kick off our month long celebration, we highlight one of the region's widely acclaimed dancers, Barbara Requa, one of the founders of @NDTCJAMAICA
See below for highlights of her life
— Tenement Yaad Media (@tenementyaad_) March 2, 2022
In many ways, Barbara Requa was the last of a formidable group of creatives, who together shaped Jamaica's dance landscape, from Independence onwards. Their legacy is a powerful one; the institutions Requa and her peers co-founded have maintained their strong reputation over decades, both at home and abroad, spawning several active dance groups that still exist and perform regularly. Moreover, as a cultural expression, dance continues to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, with numerous reggae, dancehall and street dance competitions, including the annual government-sponsored Performing Arts Competition, taking place across the island.