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Tampa Bay performers have part in Antigua's Mount Obama ceremony

Dancers, from left, Constance Blaize-Shorter, Tifini Gordon, Samanthia Paris and Stephanie Bromfield perform for a video this spring behind the historic fort at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. The video will be used this summer as part of the renaming of the highest point in the Caribbean island of Antigua from Boggy Peak to Mount Obama.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR | Special to the Times

Dancers, from left, Constance Blaize-Shorter, Tifini Gordon, Samanthia Paris and Stephanie Bromfield perform for a video this spring behind the historic fort at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. The video will be used this summer as part of the renaming of the highest point in the Caribbean island of Antigua from Boggy Peak to Mount Obama.

The dancer slips into colorful costume and walks with her troupe along the beach. She begins to dance barefoot in front of the camera.

She and her Tampa dance troupe are shooting a video of a dance they will perform live on Aug. 4 in Antigua at a ceremony to dedicate a mountain's new name.

Each time she performs, Constance Blaize-Shorter tries to take her audience on a journey. With movement, she says, comes a story. This time, on the sand at Fort De Soto Park, she tells the story of Mount Obama.

For years, residents of the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua have called the island's highest point Boggy Peak.

"Sometime before 1834, people enslaved on the sugar plantation revolted and successfully hid on Boggy Peak," said Blaize-Shorter, 40, an Antigua native who lives in New Port Richey and owns a Temple Terrace dance studio.

Now, the peak — 1,300 feet from the ground — is covered in vegetation, crossed by hiking trails and topped with TV and radio antennas.

But last year, after the island's people wore Barack Obama hats, shirts and buttons to promote Obama's presidential bid, Antigua's prime minister, Winston Baldwin Spencer, had an idea.

He would change Boggy Peak's name to Mount Obama.

"When I first heard it, to tell you the truth, I thought it was a stroke of genius," said Rupert Blaize, 65, Blaize-Shorter's father.

Blaize, a singer and musician who lives in Clearwater full time, travels to Antigua and Barbuda regularly as its ambassador-at-large for investment and special cultural promotions.

Spencer wrote a letter to President Obama, Blaize said, to tell him the island's plans to honor him. The island's director of tourism asked Blaize to write a song about the peak, as part of the honor.

The ambassador, an entertainer for more than 40 years, wrote the song and invited his daughter and her troupe, the Blaize Ensemble Dancers, to dance to it in a video to promote the renaming. The dance group will perform it live in Antigua on Aug. 4, Obama's birthday.

"I'm excited," said dancer Vanessa Hardy, 29. "I don't know a lot about Antigua, but a lot of people have viewed (Obama's) election as progress, and for it to reach outside of our borders, I think that's significant."

Earlier this year, Blaize-Shorter, the dance troupe and her father combined their dance with his song and filmed it at Fort De Soto for use in TV commercials in Antigua, and in an upcoming documentary about the peak.

The troupe fuses modern dance moves with Caribbean ones, Blaize-Shorter said, and the song, which quotes the prime minister's letter to Obama, fuses one culture with another. Blaize hopes the event makes global headlines.

"We believe this is a way of taking Antigua out to the rest of the world," he said.

Visitors who travel to see the peak will get more from their trips than just photos or memories, said Blaize.

"We are the only country in the world with a Mount Obama. … Every time a visitor goes by Mount Obama, they will remember the achievement of black folks," he said. "Mount Obama is a symbol of hope."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 269-5301 or aspenceley@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay performers have part in Antigua's Mount Obama ceremony 07/26/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 26, 2009 11:46pm]
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