I was born and grew up in Toronto, and if you’re of Caribbean descent like I am, chances are you’ve checked out a Caribana or two.
I’ve done the sideline view — hanging with a pack of friends along the Lakeshore, Bajan flag in my back pocket, roti in hand.
I then went a little closer. Although not yet brave enough to be in full mas, the spirit moved me to jump up with a band down the road. In my case, I’ve even ended up on a truck or two, fully taking in the view.
After years of working as a reporter and covering Caribana from a few angles, I’ve been able to get a good look by going behind the scenes and bringing news about the parade to the millions that take part.
But I’ve always thought it takes a strong-willed woman to do the full mas’ treatment.
And after celebrating a birthday this month, I thought this might be the year to try it. I’d been through a round at my friend Roxanne Francois’ boot camp, so I had a good physical base. And as we’d be doing it together, it would be double the fun.
But before I hit the road, I thought it would be best to get a bit of advice from those who have been there.
My cousin Lesley Dottin, who played mas for her first time more than 10 years ago, laughed when I told her my plans. In her usual blunt delivery she asked: “Are you road-worthy?”
She explained the term: “Being ‘road-worthy’ is where you feel comfortable in your body and confident in what you are wearing on the road. If you need to wear a towel from your community centre pool to the change room, Caribana might be a stretch for you.”
She knows I’m not that self conscious when I take a swim, but I know it can never hurt to tighten up where possible. So, in preparation for this home-grown adventure, trips to the gym have been… well… a little more frequent.
But I couldn’t go crazy. Lesley reminded me: “You’re there to have fun. You’re not there to walk the runway on Tyra Bank’s ‘Next Top Model’ series.”
Maybe not, but if you’re going to do this, you have to represent the mas band well and I know I’m not alone in believing that.
Fitness centres across the city have been packed with masqueraders getting ready for the road. Some of my friends, like Akilah Dressekie who is doing it for the second year in a row, have been upping their fitness ante with one of the many boot camps that have sprung up in the city this year.
“Choosing a more revealing costume is an opportunity to take myself out of my comfort zone, and to really push myself to achieve my fitness goals,” she says. “Had I chosen a more safe costume, I probably wouldn’t have worked as hard as I have over the last few months to lose inches and to look my best.”
I like hearing Akilah’s regular fitness updates and we challenge each other to get to that the gym. I have set personal spin and stairmaster records, knowing there’s a goal in sight. But if I also have a goal of taking a ‘money shot’ on the road, hair intact, I’ve got another thing coming.
Cathy Clyke is my stylist at Azan’s Beauty Salon, near Yorkville. She’s styled many women in Toronto who have come in for the parade. I asked if holding a style for the duration of the parade was even an option in my new mas experience. The look on her face said it all. We had a good laugh.
“That’s not happening.
“If clients have short hair, I put it in a funky little style. If it’s long, I curl it and tell them to twist it up. But if you want a style that will hold. . . sorry.”
My hair is just long enough to take it back, so I will have my ponytail bands in hand. Check!
What else should I be packing that will keep me comfortable, and get me through to the finish line?
While at the Tribal Knights mas camp checking out my costume, I asked Diane Fortune for her opinion. She’s played with this band three times. This year, her nine-year-old daughter Kimora will be joining her.
“Just eat good food, have a good meal before you start! Bring sun block, sunglasses, lots of water and insoles in your shoes! That’s the secret”
Insoles… didn’t think of that… good one… check!
My mentee Victoria Falana says it’s cool to pack stuff, but it’s more important to pack a state of mind. This will be her third mas experience. I’ve mentored her on the job front for the past couple of years, so this time it was time for her to teach me something.
“Though I am still young and probably have not really experienced the wrath of Mother Nature, I also stress about having enough time to get my body into shape,” she says. “Then, when I’m running down the road, wining up myself, covered in sweat and glitter, around the people that I love, I am confident, smiling and having fun.
“Let loose and have fun. That is exactly what I plan to do.”
With all the advice I’ve been given, I’m now road-worthy and ready to add another chapter to my Caribana story. And I have a feeling I’m going to love it.