When I caught up with Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford, she was in the midst of organizing a Dance Showcase, the first fundraising event for the
charity that she created, called DREAM (Dominica Realistic Education Arts Movement) Foundation, to aid young students with benefiting from holistic education.
As well as having a deep desire to help others, she admitted that she has always been “obsessed with dance,” as a way of expressing herself. Although she had
scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, she never allowed that health challenge to prevent her from dancing. When she began her dance studies in Barbados at The Dance Place at the age of nine, she focused on classical ballet training and went en pointe ( as in the poster) at the age of sixteen. Amazingly, she was able to further work on technique after she left Barbados by watching YouTube videos and receiving some coaching from renowned American/Dominican diaspora dance instructor Watmora Casey when he was visiting the Nature Island.
In classical dance style, she had prepared a routine as a poetry/ dance segment about a character who sheds pain as she becomes free from child abuse for the Ms Jaycees International competition in July 2013, where she won the crown. One of the poses is seen in the poster above.
Then in September,r this unique ballet presentation (without the spoken word part) enabled her to go on to the Talent Finals as one of the top twelve out of 130 contestants in the Miss World Pageant in Indonesia in September 2013.
With all of this information about Leslassa’s background, I was still amazed when I saw her performances at her Dance Showcase, where she crossed over into folkloric, contemporary and Latin genres! There is no doubt – among her many exceptional traits is a superbly gifted dancer! You can read more about this initiative and my review here. Her non-profit organization is receiving sponsorship from some private and corporate sponsors, but there is much more to be done and she is spearheading this noble endeavor with great enthusiasm.
As well, she is the regional spokesperson for the Innocence Project and she told me that she had a number of presentations to make around Dominica where she intended to unhesitatingly speak out against child abuse. And according to all the media reports that I’ve read late in November 2013, she did just that, in clear and concise words! Among other things, this young woman is an articulate speaker and she presents the facts and her feelings about unfortunate social issues that demand change with conviction.”But there is a lot more to be done,” she asserted.
When Leslassa looks back over the past several months of her reign as Miss Dominica 2013, she feels proud of what she has accomplished. She did realize her intention of bringing a strong social message to every pageant, whether about endangered animals, child abuse or holistic education. Her platforms were well received ,as she became the winner of three challenging regional competitions in 2013: Miss Carival, Ms. Jaycees Queen, Miss Caribbean Culture Queen, as well as first runner-up in Miss Caribbean World. She even represented the Nature Island for the first time in 35 years at Miss World 2013 in Indonesia in September. There is definitely something extraordinary about this young lady!
As an award-winning 2012 graduate of the International Baccalaureate programme at the Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, Canada, she smiled as she reminisced about it: “I enjoyed my time there,” she said. She mentioned that although the school was small, students were strongly encouraged to try new things. She won the ‘Paddy MacAvity Award’ for Fine Character, Sportsmanship and Scholarship‘ as an all-around student. Apart from a heavy academic course load, she found time to choreograph a musical, participate on a rugby team, go camping and partake of other outdoor adventures in Canada’s wilderness. Her classmates certainly respected this exceptional young woman as she was also voted ‘Head of House’ in her second and last year there. She still believes that was a special honour bestowed upon her by them. She was very appreciative, but preferred to share the extensive responsibilities with another colleague that included monitoring the overall morale, discipline, comfort, room cleanliness and compatibilities of 50 girls.
Although she subsequently received scholarships from Boston University and Rider University, as well as acceptance offers from the American University, University of Toronto and Ryerson University in Toronto, she decided to come back to Dominica for a year to try different things. She had originally planned to take a massage course here, but friends Jeanne Royer (also a Miss Dominica 2013 contestant) and Chad Astaphan ( a ‘rising star’ in the music industry) persuaded her to enter the Miss Dominica 2013 pageant. With the scholarship that she won from it, she intends to “do good things for Dominica.” She is particularly interested in agricultural economics and development, which she believes need more attention on the Nature Island. She hopes to apply her new-found knowledge in the organic sector after she completes her studies.
I am convinced that Leslassa is definitely her own person and is comfortable in her own skin. She is a life-long vegetarian (as are her parents, Yvonne Armour and Henry Shillingford) and she is a naturalist in the truest sense: “ Nature is our connection to everything. It’s our purest form. We all come from the earth – that is our foundation,” she emphasized.
When asked about how she has managed such intense pressure both on and off the stage for the past several months, her response was straightforward and genuine: “It’s all about how you handle it.“ She refuses to allow negativity or negative emotions to influence her. As well, she was determined to go out and have fun and not dwell on her performances when they were over. ‘This is my life’s philosophy,’ she admitted, “ We have one life to live and I won’t change my beliefs to fit into any specific role.” Now there’s wisdom in abundance for all of us from this young soul!
She credits her family , the essential members of ‘Team Lassa’ as being her strongest supporters and advisors. She is especially grateful to her aunt, the very talented and creative Carla Armour who was her chaperone and coach for Miss Dominica 2013 and at the various regional pageants. In addition, she is extremely appreciative of friends, neighbours and the many Dominicans who offered her assistance and encouragement so that she could realize these incredible accomplishments over the past year. She is tremendously proud to act as an ambassador for the Nature Island.
Leslassa is intent on living out her dreams as she so desires. There is no doubt in my mind – if anyone can realize a truly authentic life, it is this remarkable young Dominican woman named Leslassa. You go, girl!
You can follow Leslassa on Facebook here.