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  • They say you should speak well of the dead; but my dad always reassured me that we should be more fearful of the living. He said, "I never heard of a ghost breaking in to someone's home and stealing their belongings or drunk and crashing a car." So I will speak of the late Beryl McBurnie in a very frank way.

    Beryl was a pioneer of dance in Trinidad. I will not go through her accolades and her biography because you can just as easily google her.

    Beryl taught my mother Dance as a child and instilled in my mother and me, a real passion for Dance. She was a master of Foreign Folk and through her encouragement, my mother introduced into the schools, Dance on the curriculum. We are probably the most cosmopolitan island in the world and so a wide array was taught. From the heart of South Africa and the sound of Makeba to the Italian Tarantella and Czechoslovakian Polka.

    Beryl quite often threw dinner parties for the elite of Trinidad & Tobago and I was always featured on the program. One occasion would be Ballet, another African and another Classical Indian. Beryl would always stick a $20 in my hand and as a child, this certainly sufficed.

    The dinner parties were a disaster behind the scenes though. Beryl was a hoarder and the kitchen was the worst you have ever seen. She had an elderly maid, who had a limp and, well, she needed help herself. I can't remember her name. So my mother would always go to Beryl's house early to help with the preparations.

    My mother threw up every time but I think she felt obligated to sacrifice for anyone who took her a step further away from poverty.

    The sink was always filled with black water. I kid you not; and the mountain of used dishes, months old and covered in fungus and decay, piled from corner to corner. My mum was the brave one to stick her hand in the black water to clear the plug hole from whatever surprise clogged it up.

    When the water drained, there were over 20 cockroaches blocking the sink. No, no, no....these were not European roaches. You can only understand the horror if you have seen a roach from the southern hemisphere. These roaches are so big, they have awakened people at night into thinking there was a bandit in the house. They are heavy on the legs when rummaging through bags and fly during the rainy season.

    Just as we were trying not to faint, Beryl walked in (in all her grandeur) and fished a fork out of the debris and roaches, wiped it in her skirt and started crushing avocados for guacamole.

    Diplomats started arriving. The hum of conversation, the gentle pauses as guacamole was eaten, the long dinner table, the fish at the centre, the fabulous crockery that my mum and I tried our best to clean. The swapped fork back in the kitchen after it was used to stab a roach (by Beryl). Please don't eat that. But down it went. The spot light, the delay before my music started, the moment of blindness as I emerged from the wings, desperately searching with my eyes for the masking tape X centre stage. The silence of the crowd as they await your movement......

    I loved every minute of the madness.

    Beryl McBurnie also known as La Belle Rosette 1915 - 2000

    The photo is that of my mother and me during a performance of "Makeba" to the music of The Click Song by Miriam Makeba.
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