By Anika M. Christopher

Dance is not just about performance or showcasing a skill. From the Two Step to the Quadrilles, dance is a living embodiment of culture in the BVI.

The BVI Heritage Dancers are sentinels of a timeless tradition, with each movement meticulously choreographed to preserve our cultural legacy.

The ladies behind the BVI Heritage Dancers – founder Eileene Parsons OBE, and choreographer Heather Butcher, have breathed life into the group and steered it towards its 45th anniversary milestone.

The Genesis of the BVI Heritage Dancers

The roots of the BVI Heritage Dancers can be traced back to the early 1970s when Mrs Parsons returned to the islands and quickly realised there was something missing; the lively traditions and distinctive expressions that define the BVI. “To my surprise, there was nothing that celebrated our culture,” Mrs Parsons said.

Driven by this passion, she took a step towards preservation by starting her own dance group. “In 1979 I learned all the dances of my ancestors; the waltz, the polka, the seven step and I said I’m going form a dance group. Telephones were practically non-existent, so I wrote letters to about 70 young people in the community and I put on the radio that I was interested in forming a folkloric dance group.”

Her work began to lay the foundation for what would eventually become the BVI Heritage Dancers. News of their captivating performances quickly spread. By 1980, the once small group evolved into a dynamic collective of seasoned performers.

A Journey Through the Years

With the arrival of Heather Butcher, the group embarked on another chapter in their ever-evolving journey. A celebrated dancer from Barbados, Heather took on the role of choreographer, bringing a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to the ensemble. “As a former dance instructor and performer, I had always found solace in the rhythm of my ancestors’ steps,” Heather shared. Joining the group in 1994, Heather’s influence led to the evolution of blending traditional elements with a contemporary touch.

A new chapter was marked when the BVI Tourist Board recognised their talent, and they became cultural ambassadors for the BVI. From San Francisco to Germany to Trinidad, the partnership opened new doors for the group, to perform all over the world. As their popularity grew, a junior heritage dance group was established to ensure the legacy continued.

Embracing the Next 45 Years

The BVI Heritage Dancers have played a crucial role in shaping a cultural identity. Reflecting on memories of the past, the group now embark on the next 45 years. With each step they take, they celebrate the rich heritage of the BVI and embrace the vibrant future ahead.