Sharing the limelight with Barbadian superstar Rihanna on stage as a backing dancer is where MeShalae Hayward-Furqan sees herself in the near future.
The recipient of the National Dance Foundation’s most prestigious award, worth $15,000, is patiently waiting an anticipated album release and tour in 2019 so she can jump on the “Caribbean Queen’s” bandwagon.
Ms Hayward-Furqan, 23, from Devonshire, lives in Los Angeles. She is studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
She told The Royal Gazette: “One of my favourite dance styles is dancehall and I love hip-hop. Rihanna is from the islands, so all of her past works I have seen incorporate something Caribbean and I am all about my island. Beyoncé is definitely the queen but I relate more to Rihanna because she is from the islands.
“It is good that I am now based in LA because that is where all the auditions are happening. I am working on getting an agent to represent me and get me into these auditions.”
Ms Hayward-Furqan, who is in Bermuda for her summer break, has also been appointed dance captain for Gilbert and Sullivan’s upcoming production of Mama Mia. She will be lead dancer and will assist the choreographer throughout the show.
Ms Hayward-Furqan began training at the age of 12 with United Dance Productions under the direction of Suzette Harvey.
In 2015, she attended the Savanna College of Art and Design. She took a minor in dance before auditioning for the AMDA in 2016. She has just finished at the conservatory in New York and gained the equivalent of an associate’s degree and joined the LA campus in February
She accepted the Catherine Zeta-Jones Award in honour of Patricia Calnan from Brian O’Hara at the XL Building, O’Hara House, with four other awardees last Tuesday.
The award and accolade followed a great deal of hard work under difficult financial circumstances. Ms Hayward-Furqan had to work six different jobs to save up the money to attend AMDA and could not have completed it without financial aid.
Last year, she received an Argo Foundation Award for $7,500 from the National Dance Foundation, as well as a Chubb Bursary for $2,500.
“It helped my mum and I out entirely — I don’t know what we would have done without it. This year it is an even bigger lump sum. It has taken the load off us even more, which means the world to my mom and I because it is just the two of us. They helped me finish my conservatory programme — without their help, I would have had to come home and work and save up.
“To get into AMDA I was selling snowballs, renting umbrellas and chairs, I was doing little gigs here and there and teaching dance at camp, baby-sitting, making and selling clothes, doing hair …
“I will still be working now up until October, but this will be a big help in completing the programme. I would really like to thank the National Dance Foundation for their continued support.”
Ms Hayward-Furqan has also been busy gaining professional experience while living and studying in the States.
She has supported emerging dancer Nerika in a couple of Manhattan clubs — Arlene’s Grocery and Joe’s Pub at the Theatre — and has featured in some of her music videos.
Describing her own dance style, Ms Hayward-Furqan added: “I am very fluid, but I also am kind of a powerhouse — I love to hit everything strong. Up until last semester I had the most insane hip-hop teacher who taught me to give strength through smaller movements. It was interesting to learn how to convey the same type of energy with intricacy.”
Ms Hayward-Furqan has every intention of sharing her knowledge with the future generation of dancers in her home country. She believes things are looking up for dancers in Bermuda
“There has been a huge improvement as far as getting scholarships — it was impossible a few years ago, now there are more who are helping out and there are more dancers coming back home and doing workshops. It is definitely getting better but it is still not quite there yet. I wouldn’t be able to make a good living dancing in Bermuda yet, but it is moving in that direction.”