The director of an area dance troupe is threatening to sue a Jamaica church claiming that her group was not paid for a show they performed in honor of Black History Month. One of the ministry leaders at the house of worship said the performers would be paid this week and called the threat of litigation much ado about nothing.
Amina Heckstall, the director of the Ballet International Africans, said her professional youth group and teen company agreed to perform at New Jerusalem Baptist Church at noon on Feb. 18 for less than they usually charge as an act of good will, but allegedly only experienced mistreatment for their troubles.
Heckstall said they arrived 30 minutes prior to the agreed upon time and were scheduled to do a 10 to 15 minute performance. Instead, she says they were forced to wait for two hours in a “freezing cold co-ed changing room.”
“The children began to fall asleep and complain of being too cold,” Heckstall wrote in an email, adding, “By the time they came for us it was 2 p.m. or 2:30 pm. The kids had to jump around to warm up quickly, wake up some of the others who fell asleep, only to perform their hearts out and be disrespected.”
Heckstall said she incurred extra expenses due to the delay, including having to pay additional money to her van driver, who only expected to wait a total of 30 minutes, and to one of her musicians, who missed teaching a drum class, for which he is paid.
Brother Al Smith, a ministry member at the church, who booked the performance, said all the performers were told to arrive at noon when the show was to begin, and that they did not tell Heckstall that would be the time her group would take the stage.
As for the added money she had to pay the driver and musician, Smith said that is all part of the cost of doing business and is something that as the director of a dance troupe, Heckstall should have anticipated. Smith added that she never told him or anyone at the church that they were cold or had a problem with the accommodations.
“They didn’t get paid yet, but instead of waiting and letting me deal with it, she’s gone on a rampage,” Smith said. “She’s delusional. She is completely over exagerating the situation.”
The church’s evangelism ministry coordinator, Norma Payne, allegedly told the group she “wanted a bigger performance,” but Heckstall said she reminded her that she did not want to pay for the professional company and that she had actually brought more dancers than agreed upon.
Payne said that based on the online information she had read about the group, she was under the impression that the performers would be adults, not children, and that the show, which was billed as the highlight of the event, would have been more elaborate.
“It’s unfortunate that because we are a church, people think they can do as they wish and not as they present themselves,” Payne said. “Our agreement was based on a high-powered performance by adults.”
The group’s website does feature two videos and several pictures of adults performing. A description of the troupe mentions dancers under the name BIA II.
Nevertheless, the church has decided to pay the troupe the $500 it promised them, even though the performance only lasted 10 minutes, and Payne said a check is waiting at the church to be picked up along with a letter explaining the reason for the delay, which is that the performance given was not what was promised nor expected.
“We decided to do only 10 minutes or less being that the church was already in breach of the agreement themselves, Heckstall wrote in the email. “Ms. Payne decided not to pay us anything and said she would have to meet with the committee and see what they want to pay the company.”
She said Smith told her of several occasions when she could stop by the church and pick up the pay, but each time neither Smith nor Payne were there to give it to her. Then, she said, Smith began avoiding her phone calls, which infuriated her further.
“I explained to them the money has to cover my expenses, but was also going towards the youth group’s first out-of-state dance competition they have been raising funds for all year,” Heckstall wrote. “This church has no care for the community- based cultural arts groups, they do not honor their agreements, and they do not show any knowledge of or respect for the culture of the community they are based in.”
Meanwhile, Smith insists that he was not dodging Heckstall’s phone calls, but had been sick in bed with a fever and hadn’t been speaking to anyone. He said he did speak with her once he had recovered and let her know she would be paid soon.
Heckstall said she is giving the church until March 4 to come up with the money or she will file a civil suit. She added that she and her supporters plan to protest on the deadline day by handing out fliers to the church’s parishioners and informing area politicians about the dispute.