Tourist Guide to Jamaica’s Traditional Dances

Dancing at Jamaica, ©Michael Bentley/Flickr

Dancing at Jamaica, ©Michael Bentley/Flickr

Dance is a popular pastime in Jamaica, and travelers can enjoy performances or join in on the dance floor fun. Dance is a part of Jamaican culture and everyday life, and it always has been. Whether European settlers or African slaves, every new Jamaican brought their own native dances, and many have evolved and combined to form traditional Jamaican dance. For most of Jamaica’s history, traditional dances from Europe and Africa have been part of feast celebrations and life-affirming rituals. The best European example of this style of dancing is the Morris dance, brought to Jamaica by indentured servants from England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Mime-style Plays

Jonkonnu is more than just a celebration; it is a dance and a musical tradition as well. However, Jonkonnu dance traditions make it the island’s oldest style on record. It blends authentically Jamaican styles to become the dance performed at today’s celebrations. Typically, African groups would enact mime-style plays, while European traditions of folk theater played short scenes and recitations. Specific dances are ascribed to the dancers, each with their own role and character to portray.

Montego Bay Dance Ensemble, ©rhastings/Flickr

Montego Bay Dance Ensemble, ©rhastings/Flickr

Revival Tradition

Pukkumina dances are based in the rituals of Myalism, but they are part of the Revival tradition. Pukkumina is a distinct Revivalist group and not the same as Zion. Most notable for its possession rituals, this group is also famous for its dances. The rituals themselves differ from place to place, but they all use music and improvised melodies and harmonies to help induce possession. These three-day festivals include many different aspects. East Indian influences can be discovered when dancers surround the leader move, which is very close to Turkish rotating dervishes.

History of Performance Dancing

Developing of dance in the form of a performance had started in the mid-1900’s.  Although at first, dance was taught only to light-skinned islanders, one Jamaican girl, Hazel Johnston, would change all that. Johnston went to England to learn music and returned to Jamaica to become the first dancer to build her own studio – no one would rent studio space to her. She began working toward dance-theater based on Jamaica’s own culture.

Dancing at Jamaica, ©Michael Bentley/Flickr

Dancing at Jamaica, ©Michael Bentley/Flickr

Dancehall and More

Each of Jamaica’s musical forms has inspired its own dances, but most notorious may be the moves that originated in Jamaica’s dance halls. However, travelers should note that the dances that go along with songs change as quickly as the popular songs themselves, so you’ll have to pick up particular styles once you’ve reached the island.

Jamaica dancehall, ©Chrysaora/Flickr

Jamaica dancehall, ©Chrysaora/Flickr

Jamaica is filled with music, and with music comes dancing. Travelers looking to get a taste of dance on Jamaica can find many different types, from African- or European-inspired styles to something truly local.

 

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