Sheila Barnett has been associated with the Arts in Jamaica for more than fifty years, starting with the Ivy Baxter Dance Group in the early fifties, where she was a principal dancer. She went on to pursue a course in Physical Education and graduated from the Chelsea College of physical Education (United Kingdom) after three years of study. On returning to Jamaica she taught at her Alma Mater, Excelsior High School and at St. Joseph’s Teachers College before moving on to become one of the first Education Officers for Physical Education in the Ministry of Education. This post allowed her to focus on the promotion of Dance in Schools though Physical Education Programme.
Mrs. Barnett was a co-founder of the School of Dance which evolved, firstly, out of the Contemporary Dance Centre a School started in collaboration with Barbara Requa in the 1960’s when Culture Training Centre (now Edna Manley College Of The Visual and Performing Arts, School of Dance) was opened, Mrs. Barnett was invited to head the School of Dance and remained Director until her retirement in 1967. She has over the years, taken a leading role in designing and implementing curricula for the Ministry of Education and for the Cultural Training Centre, notably in relation to the R.O.S.E. programme for the Ministry and the J.B.T.E. curricula for Cultural Training Centre. She is specially remembered by Jamaicans for her creation and presentation of the popular programme entitled “The World of Dance” which was aired on J.B.C. Television for many years. She has also had an association with the J.C.D.C. Festival Movement as a teacher and Adjudicator since its inception in 1962.
As an Artiste Mrs. Barnett is a founding Member of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) a past principal dancer and one of its first choreographers (1963), creating such significant works for that Company, as, Images, A Question of Balance, Mountain Woman, The Rope and the Cross, Ni-Woman of Destiny, I Not I, One Time and others. Barnett was one of the NDTC choreographers with a slew of fine creations deemed critical to the definition of ethos and style of the Company and of Jamaica theatre dance. Her innovative interpretation of roles (has) set her apart as a performer of major significance in Jamaica Dance Theatre.
An established dance scholar and creative artist Sheila Barnett has contributed widely to research on Jamaica Traditional Dance Forms, presenting lectures, papers and conducting seminar both locally and internationally. Quite deservedly, she has been given several awards over the years. Some of these include the Bronze and Silver Musgrave Medals for Arts and Education and the Commander of Distinction for work in the field of Dance and Education.