Jamaican Slave Exposure to the European Quadrille dance

European Quadrille dancersWhen the enslaved African were forbidden to engage in their cultural expressions in music, singing and dancing, I surmise they were initially forlorn. The colonialists had publicly declared their African dances inferior, uncivilised and abhorrent.

The only dancing genre exposed to them at the time was the European ballroom quadrille. The colonialists and their guests were observed dancing the quadrille on special occasions in Great houses.

The quadrille was perceived by the colonialists to be culturally superior, more civilised, elegant, dignified and gracious, in comparison with the African dances.

Message 9:
Be opportunistic and risk y to achieve your goals

The discipline of the quadrille dance was developed with the assistance of “house slaves” who may have enjoyed the privilege of dancing ballroom quadrille with their European enslavers.

In this process, the house slaves acquired invaluable knowledge of the figures/set pieces and formations of the European ballroom dance and enlightened their “field slave” contemporaries. The enslaved love of music and dance and their creative abilities, led them to master the strict protocol and practices of the ballroom quadrille.

I surmise that the enslaved waited for the ideal dance form to materialise to achieve their goals. Bearing in mind the negative perceptions of their African dances and the more socially acceptable status of the European quadrille, they reluctantly chose the quadrille as a compromise.

Logistically it seemed the right thing for them to do at the time. As the saying goes “If you can’t beat them, join them”

Message 10:
Negative stereotyping has the potential to surprise.

I surmise that the Africans mastered the quadrille dance, to invalidate the colonialists’ negative perceptions of them as sub-human savages, with no intellect.

It is reported that their quadrille dancing surpassed all expectations; that they were able to dance it exquisitely, elegantly and graciously as their slave masters did.

With such negative perceptions of the Africans, the colonialists would have been extremely annoyed, surprised and uncomfortable with the speed in which they learnt and mastered the European quadrille dance.

Contrary to their popular belief, the Africans were demonstrating civilized behaviour, intelligence, highly developed dance skills and creative abilities.

Message 11:
Deception can be an empowering strategy for the oppressed.

I surmise the enslaved, who appeared to have outwardly abandoned their “unacceptable” African ways of dancing, and began dancing the European quadrille for fun and relaxation, reinforced the colonialists’ believe in their own cultural superiority.

Africans dancing the quadrille provided some confirmation that they were becoming more civilised, cultured and less fearsome. However I belief the Africans were lulling their oppressors into a false sense of security.

In the next Blog (4) I will continue to creatively surmise how our ancestors transformed and transfigured the European ballroom quadrille dance to further achieve their goal and the coded messages inherent in their actions.

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