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Beryl Mcburnie Book Report

Beryl McBurnie
Raymond, Judy. Beryl McBurnie. Kingston: The University of the West Indies Press, 2018.
Do you think if Beryl’s father did not die five days after their arrival in New York; that
she would have started a whole career in dancing?
Wrapped within Five chapters of this book is the life and work of Beryl Mcburnie; as the
writer aims to introduce McBurnie’s contribution to the realization of culture through the
Caribbean and other parts of the world, driven by her passion for dancing. Beryl was a legend
who didn’t allow the negativity of the world to hold her down. She was a dancer from Trinidad
who established the little Carib theater and promoted Trinidad and Tobago art and culture. The
Writer, Judy Raymond who is based in Trinidad wrote Beryl Mcburnie, Babara Jardine:
Goldsmith and The Color of Shadows: Images of Caribbean slavery among other books.
Additionally, Judy also works as a journalist. Judy can be said to have an eye for art as the
picture on the cover says it all. “ The cover photo for the biography, taken by Carl Van Vechten,
has McBurnie is an image reminiscent of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It was taken in the 1940s
when Mcburnie was performing in New York under the stage name Belle Rosette (Beautiful Little Rose)”. (unknown)
The book started off talking about beryl’s childhood whereas you can see, she was in the
public eye from as early as age seven where she was invited to recite the poem “The sycamore
Tree” at a charity event. Beryl was said to have gotten her singing gene from her grandfather
who lost his entire family out at sea, where he was the only survivor as a little baby. She enjoyed
the experience at the event so much that she and her friends set up their own Coralita Club, it
wasn’t a success but she perceiver and she sold the ice cream she had for refreshment and she
scheduled another event, this time it took place in the backyard of her moms house and today it
stands the little Carib theater than little Beryl started after just an experience she gained from the
charity concert.
Identity was a central issue that was raised in the book. Identity defined as “the individual
characteristics, style or manner that is fundamental to a person (or thing) and by which that
person is recognized” It was clear that Beryl used dancing to define herself alongside her color.
Dance is another way she is defined as “the movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to
music and within a given space, for the purpose of expressing an idea or emotion, releasing
energy, or simply taking delight in the movement itself. (Mackrell) Beryl was not selfish with
her talent at which she shared and inspires others through dancing and cultural practices. She
embraced her culture and she wasn’t ashamed of where she came from and it said that she
revived the west African folk. Beryl danced in Trinidad and New York where she created a name
for herself Belle Rosette as a way of fitting herself in with the Americans. Sadly, Mcburnie got
very heart-rendering comments, reviews from magazines and patrons. Instances of theses review
came from; “the black paper, the Baltimore Afro-American referred to her as a “Tribal Dancer”,
the New York Amsterdam News said her” Blue Devil” demonstrated “the voodoo frenzy of the
African dances” and Marvel Cooke said she was no longer a girl from the hills of Trinidad
dancing her heart out at hardships of the day”(page 32-33) (Raymond) Mcburnie eventually went
back to Trinidad in her thirties. Folk dancing and song, the writer shared that she was an
academic or ballet dancer which made comparisons with others she had worked with such as
Primus, Graham, and Dunham. Even though Primus learn a thing or two from Beryl, she still got
more support than Beryl would haven’t gotten as a result of Primus growing up in America.
Beryl’s family considered themselves as being colored and not black which takes us to colorism.
(page 4) (Raymond) “Colorism is described as "Prejudice or discrimination against individuals
with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group”. (Colorism in
the Caribbean) the writer mentioned that this attribute would have helped with beryl’s selfconfidence. Colorism was a big issue stated in a news excerpt from Trinidad and Tobago.” Even
before then, in the 1920s, “color-tax” parties were another means for alienating blacks. At these
parties, men would have to pay a tax on the scale of how dark their dates were, the darker the
date, the higher the tax.” These attitudes continue to live on today and people, whether they are
cognizant of it or not, discriminate and treat each other differently based on the color of their
skin. It is also clear, even today, that light skin is preferable; even our heroes seem more heroic
when they are lighter-skinned”. (Lesile) it is evident that this was happening during Beryl’s
youthful life that may have influenced her family to make a statement like that. Additionally,
back in Trinidad Mcburnie was privileged while being colored in her home country but in
America were classified as either black or white; and beryl did fell in the black category. In
society today a vast majority of black people around the Caribbean have an issue with their skin
tone due to low self-esteem and stigma attached to being black.
Consequently, Social Stratification was influenced by several elements in the book. Beryl
did not have the money to do the things she had set out to do, being a female had something with
a large portion of this and her race. Social Stratification defined as the mobility mechanisms that
link individuals to positions and thereby generate unequal control over valued resources.
(Grusky) In the book, Raymond mentioned her family living situation as the house was as tiny as
a wooden gingerbread house. Vanetta Rollock Beryl’s cousin mentioned that it was “very
modest”. Rollocks and McBurnies were categorized as middle class. Middle Class is defined as
the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business
people and their families. Beryl’s family was neither poor nor rich they fell in between then
social stratification ladder. Which leads us to Brain Drain, most of our poorest and highly
educated and skilled people leave these developing countries and never to return because of this
Economic Situation, however, this was not the case for beryl as she returned and build the Little
Carib Theater. “The Little Carib and the work she did their inspired theatre practitioners to found
“little theatres” throughout the Caribbean. And it was at the Little Carib that poet and Playwright
Derek Walcott founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959, 33 years before he won the
Nobel Prize for Literature”. (Raymond, Caribbean-beat). In chapter five where died, the writer
mentioned that all her house got flooded and a vast majority of her personal belongings were
“As a performer, McBurnie could have been an international star. She worked
professionally in the United States in the 1940s, after she finished her studies at Columbia
University, under the stage name “La Belle Rosette”. She was, in the words of an enraptured
English reviewer, “amusing, satirical, informative, occasionally naughty and altogether
wonderful.” A New York reviewer wrote of a show she gave in 1942: Rosette combined her
abilities as dancer, interpretative artist and comedienne to great advantage. A year from now
she’ll probably be one of Broadway’s great stars. She is different, definitely different.”
(Raymond, caribbean-beat)
Culture summaries the artistic, musical elements that are represented by Caribbean people all
over the world, the Caribbean’s culture has historically been influenced by that of the African
and Amerindian traditions. Beryl used culture as a tool to liberate, set herself free and less
imprisoned by the negativity of others. Even though the reviews were sometimes bad, she pulled
through and made a name for herself, she may not be as popular as others who contributed to the
country and their cultural practices, but she did it out of love for her culture and her passion.
“McBurnie had a distinguished career as a dancer and choreographer as well as being the
founder of the Little. She has influenced and inspired dancers in her native Trinidad for decades;
her example led Rex Nettleford to find the Jamaica National Dance Theatre Company, which has
a world-class reputation, and in 1978 she was one of three pioneers in black dance to receive
special tributes from the Alvin Alley Dance Company of New York”. (Raymond, CaribbeanBeat).
This book is mostly centered around the culture and identity of the theme which relates to
Caribbean civilization, there are other themes that came out in this book, but these were the most
prominent from the information presented in this report. The writer’s purpose was fulfilled as she
was aiming to introduce beryl’s contribution, the hardship she faced, her passion and
determination she had to the reader. This book was well taught through and Judy has gone all out
in capturing the material for this book. Sadly, they omitted beryl’s age as no one seems to know
what year she was born. Evidence of this leads me to a paragraph in the book, “Beryl was born
on 2 November 1913, according to her birth certificate. The program from her funeral says she
was born in 1912; other sources, even close friends of hers, give dates ranging from 1907 to
1917 (page 4) (Raymond, Beryl McBurnie) one could say that she was focused on building the
theater in her mom’s back yard that she didn’t even have time to mark down important things
such as her age. At first, the reader thought the book was confusing and the things didn’t flow
but reading further to the end of chapter one it all started to make sense. This book was
continuous and had an understandable storyline in the book which made it easier for the reader to
apply concepts learned from the Caribbean Civilization Course.
This book was a good read and I somehow find the information presented relatable to the
reader is that the main character was from Trinidad and that she has inspired and worked along
with persons from the reader’s home country Jamaica. Rex Nettleford has contributed and sell
the reader’s country across the globe.