Why Our Ancestors Danced Quadrille

Displaced Africans from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds were taken to the Caribbean during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to work tirelessly on sugar and other plantations for profit. The ‘Plantocracy’, who deliberately and systematically attempted to strip them of their African identities, in order to gain power and control of their lives, treated them inhumanely.

In this disempowering process, they were forbidden to sing their own songs, play their own music, speak their own languages, or perform their own African dances, e.g. Kumina, Revival, Etu, Gerreh, Dinki Mini, and Tambo.

To endure the physical and emotional deprivation, and the intense pain of enslavement, they had to find ways to have some fun, to keep their spirits high, to support each other in their struggle to maintain human dignity, to build new

Plantation communities and secretly communicate their shared African religion, social and cultural values and beliefs, to maintain comradeships and most importantly, to communicate their plans for emancipation.

Januka dancers in circle

Opportunities arose for privileged “house slaves” to observe and sometimes participate in Quadrille dancing in Great Houses. They would then secretly demonstrate the BALLROOM STYLE QUADRILLE to the less privileged “field slaves”.

“Field slaves” secretly and frivolously began to mimic and ridicule their slave masters and guests dancing quadrille, as acts of defiance, resilience and assertion of their own dancing capabilities. They instinctively knew, and were comforted by the fact, that when it came to rhythm and dance embedded in their African cultures, they had the upper hand.

The Ballroom dance was perceived as not “real dancing”. It was too restrictive and formal and danced more for visual effectiveness and social acceptance, than enjoyment. 

The “field slaves”, in need of relaxation and enjoyment activities, discretely adopted and adapted the Ballroom Quadrille dance, to a new Quadrille formation dance called CAMP STYLE QUADRILLE.

In Camp style quadrille, all couples would dance simultaneously, in unison to be beat of the music, whilst in opposite straight long lines or circles. Couples would adopt a more relaxed posture, injecting into the dance their own African flamboyancy, rhythm, individuality, style in bodily movements. They also included flirtatious expressions, and friendly boastful interactions between and among them, with the emphasis on enjoyment.

Slave masters were uncomfortable and outraged at the “insolence and mockery” of “field slaves”. However despite threats of harsh punishment, the field slaves defiantly, fearlessly and purposefully continued dancing quadrille. They were determined to use their new version of the dance to achieve their aims of inter-ethnic/culture adaptation and solidarity, to communicate their love and respect for each other, and to demonstrate empowerment and spiritual enlightenment.

In Jamaica, enslaved Africans creatively used natural resources and discarded materials to make musical accompaniment for their Camp Style Quadrille Dance. They produced a distinctive blend of African and European rhythm and beat called MENTO MUSIC, which we use for our dance.

In conclusion, it could be argued that despite being physically enslaved and subjected to gross inhumane treatment, our ancestors demonstrated freedom of mind and spirit. Their determination and conscious awareness of the therapeutic value of music and dance; influenced their decision to take this European dance, without permission and with strong resistance, and utilize it to their own benefit.

Be Sociable, Share!