Trevonae Williams, Howard University News Service
In many traditional societies, there are certain paths that young people are expected to follow. This typically includes graduating high school, going to university and getting a traditional, “respectable” job. While diverging from the status quo takes courage, it becomes more doable when someone is motivated by passion. This is a story well known to Shamara Spencer – former finance student, and now an expert choreographer for some of Jamaica’s biggest acts, including Sevana, Protoje, Jada Kingdom, and Vybz Kartel.
Spencer remembers starting to dance at age six, by learning new moves from her older sister. Luckily, she was able to continue exploring this new interest at school and church. By becoming involved in her school’s dance club and her church’s youth dance group, she found a perfect way to segue her love for dance as much as possible. One would think that this would become overwhelming, but for Spencer, it was perfect. “Surprisingly, I feel a bit uneasy if I didn’t have multiple activities to do,” she said. “I was always immersed in extra curricular activities. I saw it as my reward, I told myself if I complete all my academic tasks, then I would get to dance.”
In college, things inevitably became different. She decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics at the University of South Florida, but she didn’t let this silence her passion. She continued to be involved in several extracurricular organizations, including with an all-female dance troupe, where she got the opportunity to explore new dance styles and choreography. College is a huge commitment, academically speaking, for anyone. Adding club involvement to an already hectic schedule makes things even harder, so how did Shamara manage to do it? The key word for her was balance. “It took up quite a lot of time but I dedicated 2-3 nights a week solely to my academics,” she said. “I would visit the library at midnight and stay until 7 am, until I finished all assignments, group projects, readings and studying for the week.” This was how she managed to maintain good academic standing, while not neglecting dance.
Upon graduating college in 2017, she was at a crossroads – which route would she take with her future? She ultimately decided to pursue dance and choreography professionally, but it wasn’t necessarily her first choice. “I was actually about to pursue a masters in compliance and auditing, but hurricane Irma cancelled my GMAT examination, which had no available dates for another year,” she said. “I took it as a sign that I was supposed to pursue something that I was more passionate about.” Nonetheless, she still continued to balance both aspects of her career, which is how she manages to pair her professional dance career with being an accounts executive and supervisor today.
Her decision to pursue her true passion has allowed her to inspire other dancers from Mandeville. Alliah Kennedy, currently a student at the University of Toronto, described Shamara as dynamic. “I did a class and a workshop with her,” Kennedy said. “Her moves and everything were so clean, and that pushed me to try to match her.”
Before Spencer grew to motivate others through her classes, she served as an inspiration for her family. “Shamara has always inspired me to be someone great and to aim high,” said Janela, Shamara’s younger sister. “Seeing her dance at pageants and other major events always had me in awe, and in my mind, I would say ‘That’s my sister’.” In retrospect, performing at local pageants looks miniscule to performing in and choreographing several music videos for the world to see. Her most popular work is Vybz Kartel, Afro B and Dre Skull’s ‘Shape Nice’, which has amassed almost 15 million views on YouTube as of April 2021. Countless comments under the video mention how the dancers and choreography expertly celebrate dancehall’s culture and signature vibrant energy.
Ultimately, Spencer is happy with the route she took, and the impact she has been able to make through pursuing what she loves. “(What’s great is) being able to see my dreams manifest and experience the growth and development of the Jamaican creative industry.” Afterall, who wouldn’t be fulfilled after choreographing music videos for Jada Kingdom and Vybz Kartel?