Wednesday 21st May, 2008


Living a dream to inspire youth

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By Jolanda Charles

“I want to open my dance studio. I want to be a very positive role model to my children in South, especially children from low-income homes. I would like to provide an arena where they could express themselves theatrically not only in dance (but) drama also. So I’m seeing how much I could educate myself,” said Michelle Allison Pilgrim of her plans for the future.

Pilgrim, an accomplished dancer and model, had just returned home from New York to perform at the From Janks to Strands Hair and Fashion Show, held recently at the Naparima Bowl, San Fernando by her godmother, Merate Kristos. The dance, entitled Strength and Hope, was extremely well received by the audience, thus prompting our meeting.

Their Guardian Angel…

Known also as WeleteMikael (daughter of St Michael) in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith to which she belongs, this beautiful and talented young woman has taken up the mantle of teacher and role model for children wishing to pursue a future in the performing arts.

It’s a responsibility Pilgrim doesn’t treat lightly. “I have a lot of students looking up to me and to me that’s a positive thing because when you have children looking up to you, it kind of makes you hold back from doing a lot of negative stuff …’cause you know that they are looking. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be perfect…’cause I’m not. At least you’re going to be conscious of it,” she said.

Pilgrim, a former schoolteacher, has already established her own company, the Dance Forever Contemporary Theatre, and conducts classes at the Creative Arts Centre in San Fernando—her birthplace—whenever she’s in Trinidad.

The rest of time she spends at her home in Queens, New York, focusing on pursuits in modelling, theatre and dance; experiences she hopes to be able to pass on to her students once she finally returns home and develops her studio.

“I’m kind of living a dream for them,” she said. “I’m looking to see how much exposure I could get to introduce them to the things that I didn’t get to do when I was 14, 15, 16…”

Sometimes you have to leave to succeed

Pilgrim, who also trains children for queen shows, made the point that there are not many agencies in Trinidad that provide opportunities for gifted youngsters to further their craft abroad or even parents willing to risk all by packing up and flying their children overseas to pursue artistic careers.

Given the short life expectancy of these professions, it may already be too late by the time these children come of age and are able to pursue them on their own.

Thanking her parents Lennox and Yvonne for their continued support, Pilgrim admitted that even she has encountered stumbling blocks in her attempts to further her modelling career due to her age, although she does not look her 28 years. She said that in March she braved auditions for Cycle II of the ever-popular America’s Next Top Model television series.

Feeling anxious about her age especially when surrounded by thousands of teenagers, Pilgrim, who received her modelling training at the House of Jacqui, managed to make it among the last hundred candidates from which three potential finalists were selected. She wasn’t one of them but at least her photos are now in the right hands and hopefully something good will come of it.

“I’m thinking that even if I can’t do it, at least let me find out what you need to do it and I could have my dance school and groom children in Trinidad to eventually not one day have the brain drain where they leave here, go abroad and never come back; but they go and they learn and come back and they give,” she stated.

Small town girl…big dreams

Pilgrim’s dance career started at a tender age when her mother sent her to train at the Naparima Bowl under the tutelage of Eric Butler.

“Apparently I used to be in front of the television doing everything I saw…so they took me to dance with Mr Butler at age three and I never stopped,” she stated.

Years later, at age 17, she began training for tours with one of Butler’s former students, Erica Rawlins, artistic director of Rebound Entertainment, a touring theatrical company then managed by Paula Atherley. This led her to her first tour to Massachusetts in 2000 and later in 2001. She also performed as a cast member of the UniverSoul Circus between 2005 and 2007, travelling and appearing at venues across the US and meeting celebrities like Steve Harvey and Blair Underwood.

Locally, Pilgrim appeared in numerous shows including the Astor Johnson Repertory Show at Queen’s Hall and the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition. She also performed with members of the Caribbean School of Dance and has displayed her talent at various queen shows and talent competitions, at home and abroad. Her next target is to bring home the title at the Miss T&T New York Competition when she returns to the Big Apple.

Some of Pilgrim’s awards/titles include:

Best Female Dancer (National) at SanFest (1993, 1995)

Best Hairstyle and Make-up and Miss Amity at the Miss La Reine Rive Competition (1999)

Best Talent at the Miss T&T Talent Competition (2003)

Best Physique and Best Talent at the Miss Sacha Face International (2003)

First Runner-up and Best Talent at the Miss PJD2 Caribbean Queen Competition in

St Martin (2003)

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