Transformation and Transfiguration of the European Ballroom Quadrille dance

European Quadrille dance Although the enslaved Africans mastered the European ballroom quadrille dance and danced it exquisitely, they soon realised it was too formal and expressionless to fully achieve their goals.

I surmise that their inborn spiritedness of freedom and defiance would have enabled them to cunningly transform and transfigure the European dance into a livelier, more relaxing, interactive and enjoyable dance form for them.

Message 12:
Be confident in your knowledge and skills to enact change

The Africans mixed up the sequential sets/ figures of the ballroom dance and called them by different names.

Although European elements in the names of some steps and expressions were retained, their new quadrille dance hardly resembled the European Ballroom dance with its strict hierarchical and sequential practice, performed by 4 couples, in square formations, and with specific musical accompaniment for each Figure/ Set piece.

I surmise that the Africans deliberately reconfigured the Ballroom “Sets/ Figures” to deceive their oppressors and to reduce its authenticity.

Message 13:
Be assertive – establish ownership of your creation/ intervention.

The Africans essentially did “their own thing”. They called the transfigured and transformed quadrille dance Camp Style. They further developed the musical accompaniment – “mento-music”.

The Camp style quadrille dance includes both linear and circular formations, and can be performed by more than 4 but with a minimum of 2 couples.

A more relaxed posture that facilitates friendly, boastful and flirtatious interactions, flamboyancy, creativity is adopted. Individual freedom of expression in rhythm and style are distinctive features.

I surmise that the Africans were demonstrating ownership. Their enhanced awareness of the powerful impact of music and dance is evident in their creative and flexible development of Camp Style quadrille.

Message 14:
Be aware of the negative impact of change and have coping strategies.

The colonialists perceived the enslaved as arrogant and disobedient. They were insolent in copying, mimicking, and eventually changing the European quadrille dance into their own unstructured and at times unrecognisable quadrille dance.

They were threatened with punishment if caught dancing without permission.

I surmise that the Africans fearlessly defied restrictions imposed on them not to dance. They were not afraid of risk taking and were prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.

Message 15:
Be clever and discreet – safeguard some of your intentions.

Because the Africans were defiant and continued dancing the quadrille “under cover “, I surmise that unapproved indulgence was eventually tolerated, based on a surface level view that dancing the quadrille was primarily for enjoyment, as it provided some form of relaxation for the enslaved in the limited free time they had available to them.

However the colonialist may not have realised that some of the repeated body movements and dance formations of the Camp Style quadrille were similar to those in African dances.

Message 16:
Celebrate your success.

The Camp Style quadrille became their newly found medium for communication, enjoyment and to keep their spirits high.

It successfully fulfilled the new medium Criteria that they sort to subversively continue their African cultural expression, also stated in Blog 2. It should:

  1. facilitate regular socio-cultural and spiritual exchange.
  2. provide opportunity to assert and share their experiences of plantation life
  3. enable them to develop and maintain comradeships and help build cohesive plantation communities.
  4. empower and support them in their struggle to maintain human dignity and respect.
  5. help them to temporarily escape the barbarism/ inhumane treatment they experienced daily.
  6. enable them to experience some enjoyment and happiness in living.
  7. help to liberate their minds, bodies and souls.
  8. facilitate communication of their plans for emancipation.

I surmise the enslave Africans utilised the Camp Style quadrille dance to assert their humaneness, intelligence, wisdom, creativity, flexibility, their powerful sense of self and strong cultural identity and destiny.

They cunningly used it to facilitate their deep yearning for socio- cultural contact and sharing, and some used it as a cover to hide and continue their outlawed spiritual and religious African practices.

They used it to communicate information about past, present and future events affecting their lives, as they would normally have done in Africa. They successfully used the Camp style dance to deceive, bewilder and outsmart their colonial oppressors.

I surmise that they regularly danced Camp Style quadrille in their Camps, and perfected their movements as they did for the European ballroom dance.

Their instinctive and highly developed knowledge of dance movements and musical rhythms make observation of this dance fascinating and mesmerising.

In the next Blog (5) I will explain how JANUKA dancers demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of our ancestors lived experiences through the quadrille dance.

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