Tribute to JANUKA by Ralph Waithe

A Journey with JANUKA:

I became aware of JANUKA in 2009 and the Quadrille dance quickly stirred my cultural and spiritual awareness. The dynamic drumming that precedes JANUKA performances holds my captive interest; it evokes the memory of our African slave ancestors whose adaptation of Ballroom Style to Camp Style became a medium of communication, entertainment, and moral support. In respects, Camp Style Quadrille was therapeutic, enabling slaves to endure the physical and emotional deprivation that placed their human dignity beneath their slave masters’ animals.

At a Black History month event in Mitcham, Surrey, in October 2009, when JANUKA began to dance the Ballroom Style Quadrille the atmosphere in the hall changed. I was transported into a different world. Instead of warm appreciation there was thrilling applause for the stately and graceful movements of the geometrical formations inherent in the dance. I saw flair, enthusiasm, and spiritedness in JANUKA’s interpretation of the Ballroom Style. It certainly induced a feeling as if the dance, backed by Mento music, had invaded my mind and spoken to my soul. An outflow of soulful emotion then followed in the less formal Camp Style dance that instantly enthralled the audience.

I heard discussion among the audience and also participated in the exchange of views about Quadrille. It became evident that West Indians in the 50 plus brigade have a vast knowledge of Quadrille and were able to explain why variations in the figures and movements differed throughout the West Indies. These variations were mainly due to an island’s colonial identity, the French and English being the main proponents; but we were equally enthralled by JANUKA’s performance, which evoked such pleasant memories of our childhood, filled with Joie de vivre.

At Lewisham People’s Day in 2011, we saw natural ability and the free spiritedness of the doctor bird. We felt the love and the empathy of the dancers gracefully transitioning through the figures in a spectacular demonstration of Camp Style Quadrille underpinned by Mento and Dancehall music. These beautiful movements in rhythm are etched in the memories of the vast receptive crowd. The experience left me glowing in appreciation. Nina Simone most aptly describes my Quadrille journey with JANUKA: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good”.

From its inception in 2007, JANUKA has been an all-female group. Consequently, women cross-dress as men throughout the performance. But the sight of women performing couples’ dances in the guise of men, even though they perform adeptly, elicited some interesting views among the predominantly younger and largely female audience at Lewisham People’s Day. A majority of females, both young and old, were supportive of including “real men” in the group to reflect standard custom. Conversely, a few female dissenters across the age ranges stated a preference for maintaining the status quo as “once men are brought on board” relationships would start and the inevitable jealousy and differences between the sexes could affect performances and may even lead to the break-up of the group. All males were universal in the belief that men should be dancing with women rather than women portraying men. A discerning male even contended that if cross-dressed men dare to perform a couples’ dance as women this could give rise to a riot. But replies to the question: would you like to join JANUKA to help the group overcome the “man shortage” elicited a collective response that time would not permit them to do so.

The excellence of JANUKA is dependent upon: (a)  the sound quality and acoustics at the venue. I recall two performances the same night (Colliers Wood Community Centre and St Anselm’s Church Hall). One outshone the other. The sound quality with the better amplified melodious tone noticeably energised the dancers and they gave an exceptionally great performance that received rapturous applause;(b) space is a factor that can impact upon the performances too; but thanks to commitment, versatility and professional attitude, the dancers appear to always overcome these handicaps.

Mento is traditionally the backing music of JANUKA dances, but gospel and dancehall are also popular and more contemporary music is regularly included. A feature of JANUKA is the ability to be innovative both in dance and music. Innovation is pleasing for spectators with varied tastes in music and I look forward with anxiety to JANUKA dancing Quadrille to bhangra or hip-hop or gangnam style, among the more eclectic music genres.

Every JANUKA performance is an exhibition of immaculately dressed dancers. This feat is attributed to Jean Carol Watson who brings an eclectic style of fashion and flair to the performance. The perfect blending of colours and styles of the costumes beautify the dancers and adorn the choreography. The designs may well have been prepared for the catwalk!

In spite of being second only to football as the most popular physical activity of the nation’s youth, dance attracts startlingly low levels of funding.[1] In developing physical activity for young people across the United Kingdom, government has invested £5.5 million as it accepts that dance is an activity that breaks down social and cultural barriers, improves communications between individuals and groups and contributes to positive values in society. Finance is indeed the underlying factor that determines the success or failure of enterprise, but in regards to Quadrille there is no apparent national body that funds or promotes this activity. The funding of Quadrille remains the sole responsibility of the individual or group despite the fact that physical activity offers tremendous opportunities and provides the best return on investment by way of instilling a positive mind-set and empowering individuals to set and overcome boundaries that initially appear beyond their reach.

JANUKA believes that everyone has the ability to express themselves in dance movements. In pursuit of this ideal it organises educational and practical workshops in Quadrille dancing to help people learn and improve their skills, improve fitness, realise the joy of relaxation, have fun and laughter, develop camaraderie, and inspire and empower individuals and communities by increasing their awareness of the therapeutic value of music and dance. As a physical activity, dance certainly widens artistic and cultural expression and even though some individuals may enjoy the fun and laughter without caring to perform on stage, the involvement with young people in Quadrille dances or learning about Mento music also enables the building of bonds and bridges in a way that few other activities can. Dance is not only a unifying force in groups or the community; it stirs national pride and certainly brings honour to a nation. This is why we must appreciate that Quadrille is more than a pastime and must be taken seriously, given the opportunities it offers.

JANUKA is a small community group that in the absence of funding has to rely upon members’ contributions and public goodwill to finance its overheads. JANUKA needs all the assistance to pursue their aims and objectives. In the absence of funding from government, local councils or private enterprises what can you do to help them realise their vision? Do you want every aspiring individual to have access to consistent and comprehensive high quality Quadrille dance experience? Our culture would die if we do not try to get young people interested in taking the torch and carrying on the culture from one generation to the next. Indeed, the involvement of more people becoming life-long Quadrille participants and enthusiasts will be significant in maintaining the lasting legacy of this rich cultural heritage our African ancestors bequeathed us. Our heritage is an effective medium through which a level of proficiency is displayed in dancing the various Quadrille formations that expresses a common purpose of love, unity and strength.

The JANUKA website was launched in December 2012. It is a valuable source of reference, which transcends boundaries and will reap dividends in promoting Quadrille to a wider public.

Friends of JANUKA are asked to help them achieve their goals by pledging donations, organise and support fund raising activities. Please access JANUKA website, have your say, share ideas, spread the word, and get updates of their events and the development of their vision.

The vision of JANUKA is a collective insight of a group of dancers under the guidance of Beverley Bogle. Their passion is expressed in the driven commitment that “Quadrille dancing is an affirmation of the free spiritedness, inner strength, wisdom and versatility of our ancestors”. These aspects in addition with much practice enables the dancers to perform with self-assurance, grace and distinction as witnessed from the outset of the story telling of defiance, resilience and gallantry (in The Entrance Wheel) on through other figures leading to The Exit Waltz.

JANUKA takes every opportunity to educate as well as entertain. At most events, when the opportunity arises, Beverley Bogle would give a synopsis of the groups’ objectives: what is Quadrille, why our ancestors danced it, and why we are dancing it today. This synopsis is also supported with the distribution of informational leaflets. Since 2012 group members have begun to tell their story in the Camp Style dance of how our ancestors survived enslavement. These methods help to engage and maintain audience interest and attention.

I am elated at the development and success JANUKA has achieved over the years. But these achievements certainly are not without pain, even though pain is the price of living. It is a credit to the drive and perseverance of the members that has enabled me to enjoy an exciting and emotional journey; and long may it continue. Thanks and nuff, nuff respect and admiration to all involved in JANUKA.

Form:  Ralph Waithe






[1] Tony Hall – A ten year vision 2010 – 2020 for the development of dance for children and young people in England:



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