BERYL  McBURNIE

DATE OF BIRTH: November 2, 1914
PLACE OF BIRTH: Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
EDUCATION:
  • Woodbrook CM School
  • Tranquillity Girls' Intermediate School
  • Government Teachers' Training College
  • Columbia University, New York, USA
    CAREER:                                     While training to become a teacher, McBurnie developed an interest in Caribbean folk dance and, as a teacher, she worked on extracurricular activities such as plays, concerts, and operettas. However, her teaching career was put on hold in 1938 when her father took her to New York, USA, to pursue a career in medicine. Instead, she ended up attending the Academy of Allied Arts, the Evelyn Ellis School of Drama, and Columbia University, where she briefly studied painting, drama, and theatre, and learned dance from Martha Graham, the famous American dance instuctor. She visited Trinidad in 1940 and successfully presented the show "A Trip Through the Tropics" with her local dance troupe at the Tent Theatre. It was her first major production. She returned to an impressive dance career in the USA where she was given the stage name "La Belle Rosette," after the famous Colombian dancer Carmen Miranda.
                                                             In 1942, she returned home for good and took over her dance troupe which had been run by Boscoe Holder in her absence. Working as a dance instructor for the Education Department of Trinidad & Tobago, she introduced folk dances in the schools. In the mid-1940s, she visited France, England, French Guiana, Brazil, and Suriname. In her quest for a home for the performing arts, she converted her parents' backyard at 69 Roberts Street, Woodbrook, to The Little Carib Theatre in November 1948. She conducted dance classes and choreographed many shows at the Little Carib, and was the first person in Trinidad to showcase the steelband when she included the Invaders Steelband in her program. In 1950, she visited England as a guest of the British Council and later toured Canada, England, and the Caribbean with her dance company. In 1957, the "Great Lady of Dance" taught dance at the Jamaica campus of the University of the West Indies and later lectured at various colleges and universities in the USA. McBurnie was recognized in November 1978 by the Alvin Ailey Dance Group as one of the three Black women who had a "profound influence" on American dance.
    AWARDS:
    • 1958 - Order of the British Empire (OBE)
    • 1969 - Trinidad & Tobago Humming Bird Medal Gold (for Folk Dance)
    • 1989 - Trinidad & Tobago Trinity Cross (for Promotion of the Arts)
    DIED: March 30, 2000, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
    Compiled by Ronald C. Emrit