Bajan Fusion is a Healthy Lifestyle Event Management Service designed to fuse Barbadian dance, music and sports on the world stage. It is a growing movement in Barbados, spearheaded by Celia Collymore, founder and source of immense passion. We were naturally intrigued and wanted to find out more about the movement: its origin, mission and message. Enjoy!!
…I saw a diverse group of people and this diversity is what I really liked…people of all shapes and sizes were dancing and having fun without feeling intimidated.
How was Bajan Fusion conceptualized?
Long story…but let me try to make it very short. Bajan Fusion was conceptualized in September 2011 while I was living in New York, [after leaving Barbados on a Basketball Scholarship]. I worked for a Financial Services Company for a number of years in New York. One of my colleagues approached me one day about an exercise dance instructor who was playing my type of music. I was surprised, so I asked him, “What type of music? ” He responded, “I mean soca and reggae.”
This was surprising since where I lived and worked was not predominantly black. I am always intrigued by anything Caribbean, so I decided to check it out. My colleague invited me to one of the exercising sessions. At first, he told me that the instructor was going to do a flash mob and asked me if I wanted to join. My immediate response was “Me? I don’t want anyone to watch me dance or mess up.”
He assured me that it would be fun, and since I was moving back to Barbados [in one or two months], it would be something good to do. After I attended some practice sessions, we did the flash mob in Union Square on 14th Street, and it felt really good. It was at that time I got excited and said, “WOW, this is something that could be done in Barbados“.
What came after the insight?
Once I experienced the flash mob, my colleague encouraged me to take part in a Zumba session which was also directed by the same instructor. A few days later we attended a session. When I got there and looked around, I don’t even think that they had five Caribbean people in the room, but it was all reggae and all soca that she was playing. I remembered saying in amazement, “WOW, these people are just taking in MY music…[not because they know of it, but simply because] it made them feel good and the fitness movement was helping them to lose weight, to get fit and stay active.
At the end of the session, I felt really inspired by the community that the dance instructor was building. I saw a diverse group of people. There were Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, and Caribbean people of all shapes and sizes, and this diversity is what I really liked. I approached the instructor with the idea of traveling to Barbados. I don’t know why I did it – [maybe because of the energy in the room], but I said: “I would love to bring you to Barbados.” Her response was: “What? That would be a dream come true!”
I told her that I was about to move back to Barbados and this seemed like a prime opportunity to develop a partnership, even though I had no idea whether it was possible or not. A formal meeting was convened days later [on Saturday], and I presented the idea of bringing the instructor’s Caribbean dance/fitness movement to Barbados to experience the island culture…[which goes way beyond just the music in the Zumba dance sessions]. The competitive side of me also wanted the instructor to get to Barbados before any other Caribbean island.
Monday morning I got back to the office and I asked myself: “Celia, are you crazy? What have you just put yourself into? What are you doing?” That whole day I just could not think about work. I had spoken to this lady and now I had to do something about it. I just decided to say, “Well, I am Bajan (Barbadian), and all I am doing is trying to fuse cultures; hence, Bajan Fusion.” [The Zumba group members] were already dancing to the music. They were whining, but we “wuk up”. I saw an opportunity for them to learn more about how we do it in Barbados [fusing music and dance]. And so, Bajan Fusion was designed to fuse Bajan music, dance and sports. It’s nothing more complicated.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced after returning to Barbados?
When I came back to Barbados, I knew that I needed to connect with people. I didn’t come back home to be an entrepreneur; I came back home to look for a job! I had literally taken out thirteen years of my life and returned to Barbados, and of course I had to adjust. To come home on holiday was different, but imagine now one week passing and then two weeks going by. For me, it was a process of getting familiar with the unknown. Being able to acclimate was really hard. The next thing was connecting with professionals and networking. [And, yes, I also had to look for a job!].
I went to an entrepreneurship networking event and I just started to introduce myself to people. I mentioned Bajan Fusion to people briefly, but there was one guy who took an interest in it. He really liked the concept, and the first thing he asked me was, “Celia, have you ever written a proposal?”
My response was a resounding “NO!” He helped me to pull together the Bajan Fusion package. That’s where it all started. I started meeting with people to introduce them to the package, and it was hard. I knew the concept of Bajan Fusion was great, but no one knew who “Celia Collymore” was.
Six months after returning to Barbados, I was still working very hard to get support and develop the instructor’s project, and nothing was happening. I was working part-time with an HR company and one day I was speaking to my colleagues in the office about the project and someone recommended that I contact the marketing manager of ICBL – a leading insurance company in Barbados. ICBL became my only financial supporter during this time. Without the cash from ICBL, Bajan Fusion would not have been possible. I will be forever grateful, and I am always willing to help with ICBL’s sponsored initiatives.
And, what came of the instructor led event?
When ICBL said yes, everything started to fall into place, however things became very last-minute. Days later I received a call from Goddards Shipping & Tours. They were interested in lending support by providing two of their locations. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Also, I am very grateful to my family and friends, and to the professionals, entrepreneurs and small businesses who supported the project with in-kind products and services to help execute the event.
There were seventy-five people who showed interest in November 2011, but by the time I got the support, a lot of the people bowed out because it was too late. In addition, the ticket prices were too high. Yes the event was happening but if people knew me two years earlier, it probably would have been easier. At the end of the day, approximately eight people came to Barbados in June 2012, and we pulled off two events and two of our local artists, Kirk Brown and Statement, participated (sang a few of their songs) in our dance/fitness sessions.
Consequently, 20 people came back in August 2012, to experience Crop Over. Yes, they wanted to come and exercise, but they wanted to also experience the true essence of Barbados. This is how it all started. It was about getting people in and getting them to experience our history, the festivities, our music and food, as well as to explore the island. It’s not just staying at the hotel and seeing other tourists, but also interacting with the other locals via activities. People were so excited that they even became friends on Facebook just from the experience they had with each other.
Do you see a future role for Bajan Fusion to attract tourists to our shores?
In terms of people coming to Barbados, it is definitely possible to make this happen, but I find with getting these types of projects off the ground, you definitely need initial funding and support. It takes contributors and sponsors being able to see the benefits to/for them.
How much effort is required to pull off an event?
It takes a lot of time, energy and effort, however, planning gets easier once you have built relationships with people. I am still thinking about the type of events to be done, but I want to make it more diverse. It takes a lot of focus. It will take time for some merchants to see the value of what I am trying to do. Once they see the value, both parties come together to package an experience.
You recently introduced the Fittrepreneur project; can you tell us more about this?
This is a spin-off of Bajan Fusion. This is a 360 degree approach designed to help entrepreneurs develop their business and move their brand forward. Through this movement we are having the conversation with entrepreneurs about the importance of adopting a positive attitude and balanced livelihood in business. You already know that Bajan Fusion helps with adopting healthy lifestyles, but based on what I have experienced as an entrepreneur, this is not the way it works. So, when you asked me earlier about how much work it takes to put all of this together, it takes a lot more to stay sane and keep smiling, as well as to take care of your health.
Based on other conversations that I have had with other entrepreneurs, it seems like a lot of us are struggling but we are not asking for help, or we are not in a situation to speak the way we need to, in order to prepare ourselves for opportunities. It’s about getting entrepreneurs to really get fit for business in every aspect, and to look at their lives full circle. Yes, it is a fact that we want to make money, but at the end of the day you have to look at every aspect of your life as an entrepreneur, because every aspect can be impacted if you don’t.
Global Entrepreneurship Week happens here in Barbados every November. Fittrepreneur will be introduced at the event this year as an unleashed idea. This event is not just about something that is already live, but it’s about bringing new ideas and testing them.
How do you differentiate Bajan Fusion from Tough Mudder and CrossFit?
That’s a very good question! Bajan Fusion is about empowering people to see the possibilities and seeing that fitness is not just physical. It’s mental, and while you are on that journey, you get to connect with people who are on that same journey. It just makes it feel like life is worth living because Bajan Fusion allows you to bring balance into your life. You are leaving the stress of the day and work behind, in favor of entering a space with like-minded people who are into fun, adventure and fitness. As you do this you make a conscious decision about how you feel entering and leaving this space.
Finally, if we were to meet three years from today, what would you have had to accomplish to feel happy about the direction of Bajan Fusion?
I would say to you first, I did it. I did it!!!
Doing it means continuously doing what I am doing, enhancing skills and adding value. Because of the vision, I am propelled. I want to develop a team of responsible people who can help others make their dreams a reality and buy in to the vision, working together for mutual benefits. The long-term plan is to get Barbadians to see why, who and where we are going with Bajan Fusion.
I do recognize that there are other persons in my space as well who are doing similar things, but the most important thing is staying aware; however my aim is not to compete but do the best I can with the Bajan Fusion brand.
For more information about Bajan Fusion and Celia Collymore, visit the company’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BajanFusion.