Last Monday’s Victoria Day was most satisfying in more ways than one for Audley Coley. For one thing, the Montreal resident was back in his old neighbourhood where he joined hundreds of revellers at the “Jump for Jamaica Sinting” launch at Christie Pits.
Sintings are interactive flash mob-style events at public parks and squares that will be held around the Greater Toronto Area this summer to mark Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary.
Coley was back dancing and jumping up at the park where he played baseball and swam while living in the neighbourhood in the early 1970s after migrating from Jamaica with his family in 1968.
Then, the disc jockey played Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”, one of Coley’s favourite tunes.
“As a young boy, that was the first number that I really liked,” recalled Coley who is a professional dancer and fitness trainer. “I just love that song.”
Coley was just three years old when Jamaica gained its independence.
“My father was a policeman and I remember that was a jubilant time,” he said. “I have fond memories of people coming together and singing.”
After winning the Most Promising Dancer Award in 1978 at Roland & Romaine School of Dance in Toronto, Coley set his sights on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
“My goal was to dance with them but things did not work out because the competition was tough and I felt that not being an American worked against me,” he said.
Disappointed, Coley headed for frozen Frobisher Bay – renamed Iqaluit in 1987 – in the southeastern corner of Baffin Island where he started a family and spent three years. The father of two went back to the Alvin Ailey School to study dance prior to heading to Montreal where he danced for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
A Concordia University Fine Arts graduate, 53-year-old Coley is a fitness instructor at the Atwater Club and a certified toastmaster. He’s also among 250 Jamaican-Canadians profiled in a special 50th anniversary coffee-table book – Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish. The book is a compelling mix of images and stories about the presence of Jamaicans in Canada with individual profiles and creative pieces.
“It’s such an honour to be selected,” said the eldest of four children who attended Palmerston Avenue Junior and Kent Senior Public schools. “I was blown away when I learned last December that I was in the special book.”
In addition to the “Jump for Jamaica” song and the “Jump for Jamaica” dance debut, the inaugural Sinting also featured the Muhtadi International Drummers, the Metro East Pathfinder Club Marching Band and a ‘Real People Jamaican Stylin’ fashion show judged by, among others, Jamaican-born international model, Stacey McKenzie, who strutted her stuff on the grass catwalk.
The fashion model, runway coach and judge on the Canadian reality TV show, Canada’s Next Top Model, said Jamaica is still close to her heart.
“Canada provided us with opportunity but (my mother and I) never forgot where we came from,” said McKenzie who lived in France for seven years and has modeled for such top designers as Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix.
Playwright and entertainer, Marcia Brown, hosted the event which was organized by Sandra Whiting.
Jamaica achieved its independence on August 6, 1962.
BY RON FANFAIR