Jamaica’s Heritage in Dance

 

Bruckins

Bruckins, as a member of the creolised group of traditional dances, reveals a unique mixture of African and European influences.  The Bruckins party is a stately, dipping-gliding dance typified by the “thrust and recovery” action of the hip and leg. It was performed in the past mainly to celebrate the anniversary of Emancipation from slavery on the 1st of August, 1838.

Burru

This particular form of dance is a fertility masquerade found in Lionel Town and Hayes (Clarendon). It has familiar features to the Jonkunnu. The dance shows strong fertility elements as evidenced in the deliberate rotating action of the hip while bending through the knees accompanied by breaks of intermittent small jumps.

Dinki-mini

Dinki Mini is done on the Eastern end of the island in the parish of St. Mary. It is usually performed after the death of a person until the ninth night. These ‘Nine-Night’ sessions are lively and are held usually to cheer up the bereaved. During the performance the male dancer bends one leg at the knee and makes high leaps on the other foot. Both male and females dance together with very suggestive pelvic movements. An integral aspect of this dance is the use of the instrument called a benta.

Ettu

The Ettu dance is performed in the parish of Hanover and is a social dance from Africa. It is believed that Ettu is a corruption of the word Edo, the name of a West African Yoruba Tribe.  The dance involves the lifting, and dropping of elbows and shoulders, with the feet doing sideways shuffling step. The songs are short and repetitive, built on four notes only and sung in a Yoruban dialect.

Gerreh

The Gerreh is a dance of African origin that is performed the night after the death of a person. The dance is very lively and celebratory in nature and geared to cheering the bereaved. It is similar to the Dinki Mini and Zella with more emphasis being placed on the hip movements executed mainly by the female dancers. The instruments used in Gerreh are similar to those used in Dinki Mini with pot covers taking the place of the benta.

Gumbay

The Gumbay dance, an element of the healing cult of the same name, was also performed in the parish of St. Elizabeth and is derived from Myal. The dance consists of a series of long steps followed by vibrating sideways body movements and by wheeling turns and sudden stops with pelvic forward tilt. During possession various feats such as back bending, rolling over in somersaults and climbing high coconut trees could be observed. This dance is well known among members of the Maroon population.

Jonkunnu

Jonkunnu (called John Canoe by the British) is a band of masqueraders which usually perform in towns and villages around Christmas time.  The Jonkunnu customs go as far back as the days of slavery, but at that time the bands were very large and elaborate. The Jonkunnu band was accompanied by musicians who would play tunes of well-known traditional songs on the fife accompanied by bass and rattling drums, shackas and graters.

The characters in the Jonkunnu band were usually played by men. Their faces would be fully covered and when they spoke it would be in coarse whispers as it was a part of the tradition that no one should be able to identify them. Characters in the Jonkunnu Masquerade were quite frightening to onlookers. Masqueraders were dressed in costumes such as King and Queen, Cow Head, Horse Head, Devil, Pitchy Patchy, Red Indians and ‘Belly Woman’.

Kumina

Kumina is a religious group, which originated in Congo, West Africa, and was brought to Jamaica by the free Africans who arrived between the 1840s and 1860s. According to Dr. Olive Lewin in her book “Rock it Come Over”, Kumina expresses the strongest African retention of Jamaican folk culture, and provides powerful clues about the religious and social customs of the African ancestry. It is generally performed in the parish of St. Thomas to celebrate special events such as engagements and weddings. The three most important elements in a Kumina session are dancing, singing and drumming. The drums are believed to be the most important because of the control they have over the spirits.

 

Maypole

Maypole, also referred to as the Long Ribbon Pole in rural areas, was a part of outdoor social festivals of old England and Jamaica and was performed at fairs, garden parties or picnics. It involves the plaiting of different coloured ribbons demonstrating three basic traditional patterns starting with the grand chain or “basket weave” wrapping the ribbons around the pole from the top. There are various styles in Maypole, more popular being the Spider Web, Flair, Dome and Umbrella.

Myal

Myal is one of the oldest dances in Jamaica and is associated with a type of religious observance. It was mostly performed in the parish of St. Elizabeth and has been erroneously associated with Obeah. The dance shows a wide range of body movements, extensive use of space and violence of action. These are done by throwing the body on the ground and by acrobatic feats, as well as a vibrating movement brought about by a succession of rapid sideway shifts from foot to foot, on the toes and with knees bent.

Quadrille

Quadrille is a coupled (male and female) dance in Jamaica which was danced during slavery. There are three styles – the Ballroom Style, the Camp Style and the Contra Style. The Ballroom Style (or Square) of Quadrille originated from the popular dance of the French and English in the 18th and 19th centuries and highlighted the elegance and mannerisms of the elite of these societies. While the Camp style of Quadrille also known as long way set formation includes African elements and is known as the Afro-Jamaican version of the Ballroom Quadrille. The Contra Style Quadrille is performed only to Mento music from beginning to end.

Tambu

The tambu dance takes its name from the drum referred to as “tambu” and is performed mainly for entertainment with couples facing and moving towards each other using the Shay-shay, Saleone and Mabumba sequence. The shay-shay features rotating action of the hips, shuffling along with one foot on the ball.

 

Zella

This folk dance form is rarely heard of but is similar in form and structure to the Dinki Mini as it forms part of the death observances and rituals in Portland. The difference is in the main instruments which is a pair of Kumina drums.