Ballet dancers are great at leaping ahead with poise and grace. Yia-Loren Gomez has mastered this art not only on the stage but also through a period of deep loss that occurred in her young life. Now Yia (pronounced Jee Yah) has made a whole new turn that will take her from being in the spotlight, and instead have her illuminating people’s lives.
She began dance school at six-years old in Trinidad at the Caribbean School of Dancing where she joined the ranks of dance teacher. Sadly, in 2008 her father was diagnosed with cancer, bringing together two crucial moments in her life – his illness and her imminent Advanced Level of Education (A’Level) examinations. It was an experience that she handled with as much grace as it takes to do a grand-plie, only this time it was mixed with resilience and fortitude which carried her successfully through that dark period. That grace also accompanied her through her studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, and is her constant companion as she currently pursues a Masters in Art and Design at Loughborough University, England.
For her thesis, Yia has chosen to present her passion of making people live happier and more fulfilling lives through the application of special lights, and along the way she is learning that love and light is all that really matters in the end.
TEP: You’ve said you knew yourself dancing from six years old. Can you say at what age you decided that you liked dancing?
YLG: I have photo evidence of me tumbling around on the bed and my parents took note that I loved to move. It was actually when I was about five or six that dad and mom were deciding if to enter me into swimming, gymnastics or dance and it ended up being dance and I stuck with it. When I really fell in love with dance was when I was about 16 years old; I started to connect with it because the dance moves began to be more expressive around that time.
TEP: What was your first real accomplishment in dance performance, whether it was someone saying so or you feeling within yourself that you had done the best up to that time?
YLG: I would have to say it was when I joined the Metamorphosis Dance Company in Trinidad. I was about 16 years old at the time also. I went from doing strictly balletic technique to Graham technique, and that’s really hard but was great training. A few years into the Metamorphosis experience a visiting choreographer who worked with the Royal Opera House came to put on a performance of a dance called ‘Giselle’. I was very excited because it was my favourite dance. He also adapted it to a folk presentation – he kept the story line but we weren’t in ballet shoes, we weren’t in tights, it was very contemporary and Caribbean. I would say that was my best performance up to that time. It was a moment where all the hard work of my teachers such as Carol Yip Choy, Bridgette Wilson, Patricia Roe, Nancy Herrera, Joanne Decle and others, paid off.
TEP: In addition to ballet you also do jazz, contemporary, modern and other genres. Which one of your dance styles is your favourite?
YLG: It would be Contemporary. I would say that I developed my dance backbone with ballet yet I love contemporary dance. It’s a different level of expression, although you can sometimes feel silly doing something because it calls for an extra show of enthusiasm. Contemporary dance can be any dance expression. It can have some ballet movements, some jazz, there could be modern dance in there as well. It’s grown over the years and is very popular on dance talent shows such as ‘So You Think You Can Dance’.
TEP: You shared that your father passed away some years ago. How did you make it through that trying period in your young life?
YLG: I remember every detail of when I lost my dad to cancer as though it was yesterday. I was in the middle of CXC exams and a heavy schedule when he was diagnosed. I was devastated. I was still encouraged to attend ballet as an outlet. I believe after the experience of losing my dad, I can only push forward and hold a positive frame of mind in his honour.
TEP: How does your memory of your father keep inspiring you in your current experiences?
YLG: Actually this month (May 28th) will be seven years since he passed. I have my ups and downs, everybody does, but I’m a very positive, optimistic, enthusiastic person. However, when I feel down, I’m really down. Sometimes, and don’t laugh at me, when I feel that low I say “Oh gosh, Dad, you there?” I do feel him in my life and that in itself is like a push and a reminder that everything is okay, Yia. It’s going to be fine.
TEP: What area of study are your pursuing for your Masters?
YLG: Well, I did my studies in Art and Design at UWI St. Augustine and my focus was on ‘Lights’, so I’m furthering that area of study here with my Masters. I’m working with lighting design and although it’s a step away from dance, a great deal of the inspiration for the studies comes from dance. Dance and my lights project intertwine all the time. Actually, my project now is at the stage where I’m trying to apply a particular movement to light. I’ve already explored some different materials and my current work is on creating lights that would change how people feel. It’s really pretty exciting.
TEP: Why did you choose to pursue this area of study?
YLG: Through my arts, whether it’s dancing or lights I feel like my purpose is to add some kind of positiveness back into the world, and if this is how I can do it, this is what I want to do. I see light as hope. I see light as God.
“I see light as hope. I see light as God.”
TEP: And what about dance? In addition to it being entertaining, do you think that dance can also help improve people’s lives?
YLG: Yes, definitely! I’ve personally experienced it, and you can see the way people react to a performance and know that you made them feel good about that moment in their lives.
TEP: You mentioned that you are a true island girl and love that your home, Trinidad and Tobago has the perfect weather for you, so how are you coping with the change in climate and weather there?
YLG: It’s funny. I’m such a lover of the sun, like I said, that when I got here I had to psyche myself up and I said to myself; ‘Yia, you will be going outside and it’s not going to be warm, and there’s nothing you can do about that. You will have to learn to put on clothes’. It’s things like that I’ve programmed into my brain to try and adjust to things.
TEP: What does it mean to you to be extraordinary?
YLG: Going the extra mile, pushing further, doing the best you can, that to me is extraordinary.
Charmaine Daisley is an award-winning advertising professional, a seasoned writer and an insightful brainstorming facilitator. Keep up with her on Instagram at The Write People.