It's a hot Tuesday evening, just three weeks before Carnival and the MovieTowne car park is abuzz with activity. Music is blasting from a DJ truck and three fitness instructors are on stage showing the crowd of mostly women the aerobics moves. "Come on are you ready for the road, show us yuh ready!" urges the female instructor. With that the exercising crowd goes into a frenzy. I notice two women, holding their timing and doing the moves as crisp as the instructors. One of them is wearing a white T-shirt and black capri tights. Her steps are accurate but dainty. She is having a great time; I reckon she may be a dancer. The other woman seems older. She is dressed in a trendy red tank top with matching tights. She is doing her moves well, stealing a sporadic wine in between the Machel Montano, Destra Garcia and Bunji tunes. I am told that it's the Hot 93 Carnival burnout which occurs every weekday from 4 p.m.
Soon it's half-time and the group goes into a 15 minute break and I use the opportunity to catch the names of both ladies. Ms Dainty/Dancer is Keisha Bertrand and Ms Sprighty/Fashionable is Gail Hamilton. The burn continues. Several Carnival wuk-up tunes follow and Bertrand and Hamilton are shining once more. They both get prizes for their excellent coordination at the end and after the workout is over I meet them for a quick chat.
"Boom, I ready for the road!" suggests Hamilton. Moving her neatly groomed rasta locks from her face I see her bright smile. "Girl, I in every Carnival burnout. My living room is usually my aerobics gym but around Carnival I all over the place. I in ISLANDpeople work out on Lady Chancellor Hill, I in HADCO workout in St Mary's grounds, I in Nestle, I just roaming. It's my favourite time of the year although I workout through the year," she avows still dancing to the last lap of soca music from the DJ.
Bertrand is watching and sighing. "I love Carnival too but I try to diet and lift weights at the gym, I don't patronise all the Carnival burnouts. Carnival is my favourite time of the year too. I feel so liberated, so energised. I love aerobics because of the movements and the music. When I'm on the road in a band, Carnival Monday and Tuesday I am in seventh heaven. I enjoy myself to the max, I wining on wind and all but I don't go overboard," the 24-year-old states. "Are you playing mas for Carnival 2013?" I ask. "Of course," she says. "I played with Yuma last year but I am playing with Fantasy this year. I playing with my girl crew and we are careful on the road and stick together. We play mas and fete together. This weekend I will be in Panorama and last weekend I went to Central Bank All Inclusive!" Hamilton is listening on and she interjects. "Well, I not playing mas but if I get a free costume I inside the band for sure. I have the stamina for more than two days on the road girl. I fit as a fiddle, you see me here!" The tall fit-looking rasta woman in the designer exercise outfit seems to be (in my estimation) around thirty-something.
Reading my mind, she tells me her age proudly. "I am 48 years old sister. Just imagine I have a daughter Keisha's age!" I am at a loss for words and Bertrand's jaw drops. "What is your secret to eternal youth?" I quiz. "Eat good and exercise. My recipe simple. Girl I does train four and sometimes five times a week. I try to eat in small portions and I cut out the fat and salt and drink plenty water. The trick to looking good for Carnival is to exercise year round instead of a couple of months before Carnival. Some people start to train right after Christmas and expect to sweat out all the ham and black cake in two months. The body doh work so. You have to live right..... right through," she contends.
Bertrand agrees but her story is slightly different. "I started exercising when I reached my 20s. I used to be chubby as a child and everyone use to call me nasty names. When I got older I decided that I had to start eating healthy to increase my self-esteem and general health. I also decided that I wanted to be a model so I made the sacrifice and began eating a balanced diet with portion control and of course aerobics and weight training." The clerical assistant and model gets her grace from her stints on the catwalk, it's the same grace she exerts while enjoying herself on the road Carnival time. "I go all out for Carnival. Its three weeks away but I already have my boots, my stockings, my accessories and my make-up. I transform into a Carnival diva for the Monday and Tuesday of mas. I prepare before by drinking lots of water and I use sun block. I go through my entire year in anticipation of my moment of freedom," the Couva resident informs. "Well, well, my Carnival this year is jumping up in all the Carnival burnouts and in the pan tents with my daughter who plays with several pan sides. One night I with her in bp Renegades, the next night I in Angel Harps in Arima. I love my sweet pan music and I am very proud of my daughter who has taken up the pan as her musical instrument. Although I am not a masquerader this year I will be in Port-of-Spain soaking up the vibe and fun. Being a part of my T&T culture is what have me looking young so too. I doh stay home and be bored by life, I get out and have clean fun!" Hamilton claims. The Morvant resident also adds her work out tips (tried and tested ) for female masqueraders who want to look their best on the road. "When you working out your buttocks do squats holding a towel and extending it outwards when you bend into the squat position. When you working out your buttocks also be sure to wear whole underwear (panties) and not thongs so that it will hold your derriere in place. The next thing is keep active right through the day and walk a lot." The model/mas diva is on point with her tips as well. "Trade off doubles, rice and fries for yogurt, oats and fruits. It's not too late to lose extra pounds by the stomach. I know everybody loves to look good in fetes and playing mas, so the extra effort won't hurt."
Our conversation is interrupted as soca freestyle king, Bunji Garlin's 2013 release, "Differentology" is in the air. Both women start to dance and I catch myself shaking a leg as well. "I real like this song from the moment I hear it, imagine hearing it on the pan! Girl, is ah dream come true I tell yuh!"Hamilton gushes. Bertrand is excited as well. "I love the beat, the Spanish soca rhythm, I can't believe he not competing in Soca Monarch this year!" And with that, both women start discussing the controversial and much anticipated International Soca Monarch Competition which marks the return of veteran monarch, SuperBlue and kicks off on Carnival Friday. As I listen to them I start feeling a severe bout of Carnival fever coming on. Two women with two different Carnival stories but similar eagerness and appreciation for the greatest show on earth nonetheless.
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