Other pillars circle around those mainstays, and a few innovative entrepreneurs have found unique ways to infiltrate and impact carnival’s business side. The key to entrepreneurial success is to fill a need, and these women are doing just that for mas lovers in Toronto and beyond.
Get fit before di fete
Socacize – a Caribbean dance fitness program – was created by Toronto’s Ayanna Lee-Rivears, a Trinidad-born trained dancer and fitness instructor. Socacize classes use a musical backdrop of soca, reggae, calypso, dancehall, zouk, and Afrobeats to ignite attendees for the hour-long (or two hour-long bootcamp) classes. Socacize has spread from Toronto to the US and Caribbean, with a number of trainers running their own dedicated classes and strengthening that entrepreneurial muscle.
Rowena Richmond is a licensed Socacize instructor of Guyanese/Bajan heritage, running weekly classes in Scarborough since 2011. Her classes have been popular with new and long-time Caribbean music lovers alike. “It's the music that brings it all together,” she says. “Socacize is a blend of Afro-Caribbean dance, zouk and other traditional movements – and putting those into an exercise fitness program has definitely brought more awareness of the culture to individuals who have never listened to soca and calypso and are interested in learning and experiencing more.” With classes broken down into four general segments (Bachannal Warm-up, Cardio Soca Jam, Wine & Tone and Groovy Stretch), the music and movements work in tandem to create an intense workout. “For those who have already been immersed in the culture, it's great,” shares Richmond. “Who knew exercising would be so much more enjoyable with soca music?”
Socacize is available all year-round, but Richmond notes that engagement with her classes definitely ramps up as Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival gets closer. “I definitely do notice an increase in participants in my classes as they prepare to play mas,” she shared. “Inquiries about the classes also increase around the same time as costume launches, and that's expected.” With regular classes running weekly and special super-intense bootcamps popping up for the summer, Socacize is here to help you get fit for di fete!
Mek sure di yutes dem alright
For parents who play mas, childcare can be a tricky feat. What happens when all of your friends, regular babysitters, and maybe even aunties, uncles, and grandparents want to hit the parade route? Carnival Day Camp is here to save the day.
Founded in 2017 by Teresa Reid-King and Vanessa Fung, Carnival Day Camp is a Toronto-based childcare program for the Saturday parade day, allowing children ages 4-12 to have a safe and fun day while the adults in their lives enjoy mas. The day camp was created when its founders themselves (of Guyanese and Jamaican background) struggled to find their own sitters for Toronto Caribbean Carnival. “Both of us have played mas many times before, however not with our spouses because of the challenges around childcare,” shares Reid-King. “Now, because of Carnival Day Camp more people are able to play mas and more couples can play together.”
Running from 7am to 7pm on parade day, Carnival Day Camp provides nutritious Caribbean food along with a wide range of games and activities to keep children engaged. Past years included activities like yoga and headpiece making, helping kids to stay active and explore various aspects of Caribbean culture.
The feedback from parents and children is what helps Carnival Day Camp to come back better and better every year. Aside from the gratitude parents express knowing that they can enjoy the parade and know their children are in good hands, children have also raved about the day they spent at the camp. Reid-King shares that some parents reported that while their children could never relay back what they had done during a day of regular daycare, they bubbled over with information about what they did during Carnival Day Camp. Perhaps even more impactful is the fact that parents have often offered their kids McDonald’s on the way home and were turned down — the kids’ tummies were full of goodness from the Day Camp. If that’s not the sign of a good time, what is?
Crop Over comin’
While Toronto buzzes every year for the Caribbean Carnival, Barbados heats up at the same time for Crop Over. Travelling for an international carnival can be overwhelming for some, but dedicated concierge businesses have begun popping up in order to make the experience a bit easier.
Sherisse Blenman is the lead concierge and co-owner of De 246 Concierge, which launched in 2016. Blenman is Barbados-born and moved to Canada when she was 21, and now helps travellers to see the best of the island during Crop Over. “Currently, we offer patrons an authentic experience of Crop Over. This means all events and services are provided by Barbadian event producers and entrepreneurs,” she says. “As locals, we have maintained up-to-date knowledge of new hot spots on the island and so we pride ourselves on being able to take our guests off the beaten track to experience that "live-like-a-local" feeling.”
Patrons appreciate the ease of the concierge service, because with accommodations and parties and mas costumes, there are so many pieces to put in place from afar. “Guests have been particularly pleased with how organized things were and how personable the service is,” explained Blenman. “Most are surprised that all they have to do is show up and the rest is taken of.
There’s money to be made during carnival time, and conversations circulate every year – especially here in Canada – around who exactly is benefitting the most from our cultural output. While that discussion remains a valid one on a large scale, it’s important to see how Caribbean innovation continues with these entrepreneurial examples. Seeing a need and filling it with culture, creativity, and excellence is the blueprint for how we can broaden carnival-based business opportunities and will contribute to the renewal and revitalization of carnivals both here and abroad for years to come.
Bee Quammie is an award-winning blogger, freelance writer, and event host/creator with an affinity for big hair, thick books, and Caribbean sunsets. Find more of her thoughts and words at her blogs 83toinfinity.com and thebrownsugamama.com, and at publications like Parents Canada, For Harriet, Chatelaine, BlogHer.