Loud, pulsating music emanates from the loudspeakers in the open, mirror-walled space on the second floor above the popular Dungeon Gym in South Hill. “So you can really feel it,” smiles Amber Woodley, founder and director of From Within Dance (FWD).
Amber started FWD to combine the two things closest to her heart: dance and teaching. “I have always loved dancing,” Amber recalls. “As a child, I would dance at church and school concerts.”
The academy’s students, ranging from pre-schoolers to adults, take practical dance lessons and dance theory. They must pass written as well as dance exams to advance in the program. But that wasn’t always the case—in the beginning, Amber just wanted to bring dance back with her when she came home after studying abroad.
“I joined Brock Dance [At Brock University in Ontario, Canada] and had the opportunity to be exposed to jazz, tap dancing, Irish dance and hip-hop,” she says. Afterwards, she spent a year at teacher’s college in Toronto, enrolling in even more dance classes and widening her exposure.
She returned to Anguilla in June 2008 and started FWD that September. The early days of the school were characterised by an open, laid back approach. “It was well organized, but it was more recreational in nature,” she explains. “I wanted them to be properly trained and have a good foundation in dance.”
Fortune smiled on her in 2013 when she met Nichola Macdonald [Nicky]. Nicky had been visiting her mother in Anguilla while on break from studies at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, where she was finishing her dance degree. By then, Amber had been looking for someone to take over the teaching reins and invited Nicky to teach a two-week workshop. Nicky recalls, “She saw that there was chemistry between me and the girls, and she offered me a job on the spot.”
Nicky brought pedigree. A graduate of the famed Combermere School (of which Pop singer Rihanna and West Indies cricket legend Sir Frank Worrell are alumni) in her native Barbados, she is also a member of the Barbados Dance Theatre Company. Her introduction to FWD saw the beginning of the academy’s current transition to a more formal dance programme. “It hasn’t been easy,” Nicky admits. “I am trying to bring structure, and as a result, we’ve lost a few members. But we’ll sacrifice the quantity for the quality.”
I want to take them to Broadway… and I want them to know that if they keep it up, they can reach that level one day.
Amber, who’s now moved into a more executive role, couldn’t be happier. “I am very thankful for our dance teacher,” she says. “She has helped me keep my dream alive, because I really felt like we were going to be stagnant—my expertise only went so far. She has been my best investment in the group—definitely worth it.
Moving forward, FWD plans to revive its popular Dancing with Stars series, after a one-year hiatus during which Nicky revamped the academy’s dance program. The competition, which pairs dance students with local sports and entertainment personalities, began after a suggestion from local calypsonian Rebecca “Queen B” Webster. It was an instant hit. “It’s grown to be something bigger than FWD,” says Amber. “I didn’t expect it to be such a success.”
Going forward, Amber and Nicky see the potential to create a generation of talented Anguillian dancers. “My goal is to make the students believe that they can be international,” Nicky says. “My heart swells with pride when other people can see it and believe it for them.”
Amber agrees, “I want to see my group dancing outside of Anguilla. I want to take them to Broadway to see shows like ’The Lion King’. I want them to know that if they keep it up, they can reach that level one day.”