MAKING it as a professionally paid dancer in Trinidad and Tobago is already hard, but when you are a boy, the challenges go further than getting a call back says 20-year-old Michael Mortley.
"Being a male dancer has so much stigma associated with it, and while I don't feel stigmatised as such, people often question my sexuality because I dance."
"They're like, 'you're a guy and you're dancing', they watch you kind of funny, but I have found that if it is you show them that you have a passion for something that you are doing, and they care about you and about what you do (it won't matter)," he said.
Mortley is the second person to win the May Johnson bursary since it was created by the patrons of Queen's Hall in 2011 to help young up and coming performing artistes. Valued at $5,000, the award is granted on the basis of financial need to outstanding tertiary level students in the performing arts.
"Making ends meet while being a student is often hard, so I am glad for this award because, like I said, I usually have to work and this gives me a chance to focus on my studies," he said.
A second year student at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), Mortley is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in performing arts. He also teaches part-time at the Mucurapo West Secondary School and other dancing workshops.
"While in Form Three, I found a passion for dancing and a passion for movement and expression. My teacher at that time, Allison Sepaul helped me hone my skills and helped me see that I can do dance at CXC level, which I did...and from there, I applied to the University of Trinidad and Tobago to do its BFA in performing arts with a specialisation in dance," he said.
The St James resident said he has been dancing with La Danse Caraibe and Andre Ettienne Dance Company and believes that if you have enough passion, dancing can be a financially rewarding career.
Mortley, who has been dancing since age 14, says he sees himself taking contemporary dance into the future "and then bring that to the next level so that we don't forget where we came from and who we are".
"I just wish that dance could be taken more seriously where the public is concerned, like the audience could be more packed for one."
"Most people see dance as, 'oh, you're a dancer', not as 'you're a dancer' so as to take you seriously and (they don't realise) that learning is a two-way part, we can learn from the audience based on what is their preference, what they like to see and we can incorporate that," he said.
A former Tranquillity Government Secondary pupil, Mortley said most pupils are always stuck on "passing and getting all As" but there was more to life that pure academics.
"Yes, accreditation comes (with academic success), but there are other ways to make a living, everybody does not have to be a lawyer, have to be a doctor. There are other avenues that you can go through, that you can be passionate about."
"I have found that you can make a living out of (dancing), you just have to want to be a dancer. You have to have that drive no matter what and if you have that dedication in you it pays off in the long run," he said.