Our ancestors lived experiences through the quadrille dance: Pt 1/4

januka jamaican quadrille performanceIn Blog Post 2, Post 3 and Post 4 of this series I described my search for more significant, sinister and justifiable reasons for my ancestors’ transformation and transfiguration of the European quadrille dance.

This process uncovered sixteen coded messages summarised below:

  1. Music, singing and dancing can liberate your mind, body and soul.
  2. Develop a strong sense of self- identity– Know who you are.
  3. Be proud of your socio- cultural knowledge and practices.
  4. Have a strong sense of purpose and set achievable goals
  5. Be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions
  6. Non-violent strategies can be used for peaceful resolution of conflict.
  7. Be open and receptive to messages of Devine intervention
  8. Select and carefully interpret information to achieve your goals
  9. Be opportunistic and risky to achieve your goals
  10. Negative stereotyping has the potential to surprise.
  11. Deception can be an empowering strategy for the oppressed.
  12. Be confident in your knowledge and skills to enact change
  13. Be assertive – establish ownership of your creation/ intervention.
  14. Be aware of the negative impact of change and have coping strategies.
  15. Be clever and discreet – safeguard some of your intentions.
  16. Celebrate your success.

I surmise that these coded messages are meant to be culturally empowering, because through them our ancestors have told “their story” of who they are, what they stood for, and what they have collectively achieved.

They have told us that despite being gathered together in mass from different parts of Africa, ostracised, oppressed, humiliated, and de-humanised they proved to be wise, intelligent, strong, brave and courageous human beings.

They possessed a strong sense of self-identity, proud of their African cultures and had strong moral and ethical values.

They were God fearing people, gracious, kind and compassionate. They had great respect for their environment, shared mutual respect and love for their neighbours and supported each other in their adjustment to a lifetime of hard plantation work.

On the whole, they were optimistic, patient, observant, strategic, defiant, arrogant, versatile, and resilient. They remained focussed, purposeful and disciplined and through their motivational actions (violent and non- violent) they were able to achieve liberation and justice.

They were also free spirited people, talented and passionate about music, singing and dancing.

I surmise that our ancestors’ have given us some useful tips for survival in the midst of oppression. Most importantly, they have demonstrated how to be proactive and strategic in turning negative life experiences into positive learning to avoid physical and mental paralysis and even untimely demise.

On completion of this part of my search for significant meanings, I felt emotionally, spiritually and morally obliged to communicate some positive attributes of our ancestors’ lives, to a wider audience, to dispel some socio-cultural myths about them, and celebrate their triumph over oppression.

This was another exciting challenge because ironically, the quadrille dance was the medium chosen for this purpose.

I began by asking:

How do we use the quadrille dance to demonstrate our knowledge and understanding

How do we use the quadrille dance figures/movements, to demonstrate our knowledge and understanding of our ancestors’ lived experiences of slavery and beyond?

I started with a review of what we currently do, i.e. we dance both Ballroom and Camp style versions of the quadrille dance to share our knowledge and understanding of what our ancestors saw and did.

We adopt the Square, Linear and Circular dance formations to show continuity of tradition.

Similarly, a ceremonious posture for the Ballroom dance and a relaxed posture for the Camp Style dance are adopted. The later style of dancing comes naturally and is characteristics of our African roots and culture.

“Mento music”, developed by our ancestors, provides the main musical accompaniment to our dance, however other musical genres with the appropriate rhythm and beat are used for enjoyment and inclusiveness.

We exercise flexibility in the names we give to the Figures /Set pieces as our ancestors did.  The names given are not necessarily the original names of the European dance or those given to them by our African ancestors. Names given reflect the continued transformation and evolution of the quadrille dance, and specifically relate to easily remembered concepts that we wish to communicate.

Our quadrille dances vary in complexity and length and include up to 8 short Figures/ Set pieces.

We “dress up” to look and feel good about ourselves just as our ancestors did on Sundays, on special occasions and public holidays.

I then decided to call our quadrille-dancing story – “Community Endurance and Empowerment through Quadrille Dancing”

I believed we could tell “their story” by symbolically linking each dance figure/set piece to specific events in the lives of our ancestors.

We would demonstrate in our dance the power and control they had over their lives, and hope that through our quadrille dancing the invisible becomes visible.

The story of Endurance and Empowerment will be presented in 4 Parts.

In each part a synopsis of different figures/set pieces will be given, followed by relevant historical data and end with the symbolic interpretation of our dance movements. A total of 15 dance figures/sets will be presented and creatively interpreted.

Part 1.

1. Entrance to Drumming Music

Our dancing begins with African drumming music. In response to the drums we become energised and begin to dance. We collectively create diamonds with our feet as we traverse the dance floor.

Historical relevance

The talking drums, for example “TheAbeng” were our ancestors’ initial means of communication. They took this practice from Africa to Jamaica. The Maroons predominantly used drumming to communicate. The beating of the drum would signify the time, meeting place and activity.

In our story the drumming music is calling us to  “Come and Dance”

The colonialists were uncomfortable with the noise and beat of drums. They did not fully understand its significance, and so feared the enslaved were using it as a medium to plot their revolt.


In this dance we create diamonds with our feet as a symbol of the richness of our culture. We demonstrate our ancestors’ unashamed bravery, versatility and common sense.

2. The Grand Entrance March

Couples in unison perform a sequence of in and out steps, in military procession, as they make a triumphant entrance and take up their positions on the dance floor. They appear ceremonious, constrained, stoic, expressionless, and disciplined.

Historical relevance

The enslaved were forbidden to do their own African dances, and found copying and mimicking their master’s dance movements empowering. It kept their spirits high and provided much laughter as they made fun of their slave masters’ perceived inability to dance.


In this dance we demonstrate our ancestors’ discomfort, their resilience, defiance, gallantry, fortitude, and discipline.

3.The Grand Entrance Wheel

Couples perform a series of synchronised steps and wheels as they circle the dance floor.

Historical relevance

Wheeling is standard practice in many African ritualistic dances. It is a liberating attempt to free the mind, body and soul, and to communicate with the Universe.


In this dance we demonstrate our ancestors’ use of “Wheeling” to revive their culture, to free their minds, and to help them temporarily escape the inhumane treatment and imposed subordinate status they experienced daily. We demonstrate their self- worth, ostentation, resilience and defiance.

4. The Pass Through

Couples move quickly, in a linear fashion, across the dance floor, separating their hold at centre stage to avoid collusion. They appear overhasty, stiff, expressionless, hierarchical and disciplined.

Historical relevance

The Pass Through is symbolic of Slave traders who were domineering, dogmatic, strategic and emotionless in their attitudes towards the Africans, whom they bought cheaply and transported as cargo for a life of toil on plantations in America and the Caribbean.


In this dance we demonstrate how our African ancestors copied and mimicked their slave masters. We demonstrate their resilience, defiance, gallantry, fortitude, and discipline.

5. The Stroll Through

Couples dance in criss-cross patterns across the dance floor, pausing periodically before returning to their bases.

Historical relevance

This dance symbolises the approximately 2. 4 million Africans, who were bought, chained, packed like sardines in slave ships, and taken to the Americas to be sold as slaves.

The Middle Passage was long and tedious. Those who survived the humiliation and inhumane treatment on board ships were distressed, frustrated, fearful, angry, confused and mal-nourished when they arrived at their destinations.

They were re-sold at Slave Auctions, moved from place to place, did not know where they were, which way to go, what to expect or what was expected, and even whom to trust.

Some escaped into the mountains to hide and execute rebellious acts in their struggle to gain freedom from slavery.


In this dance the criss-cross patterns and reversing our steps are symbolic of our ancestors’ strategy to cover up their tracks, when attempting to escape, in order to confuse their enslavers. The pauses represent confusion and uncertainty of life’s journey. Stopping in this place could be temporary or permanent, therefore need to negotiate your way, contemplate and plan strategies for survival.

We demonstrate our ancestors’ endurance, self- control, and fighting spirit.

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