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Monday, August 21, 2006

The Music Gone To The Pigs


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Quite a lot has been said and written about the way we dance at Carnival time; how the wining is too rude and vulgar and is nothing short of adulterated, orgiastic sex. The good news is that you are right; the bad news is that we do not examine why and suggest how we should dance. Maybe it is our refusal to take on fundamental issues and move from banal observation to analytical discourse that makes us pig tail and pig mouth people. We don’t want no reason. We don’t want no cause. We don’t want no basis. We don’t want no sense. Everybody shout out: All we want is pig tail and pig mouth; pig tail and pig mouth!

Dance is a form of social intercourse, with emphasis on social. We dance to music. The contribution of Africa to Caribbean and world music is so emphatic that we make the mistake of thinking that only black people got rhythm. Well, all God’s children got rhythm but one man’s rhythm may be another man’s confusion.

Examine a few of the dance forms in the Caribbean and Latin America and take a hard look at two of them. Argentina developed the Tango and Martinique and Guadeloupe developed the Beguine. How do you dance to Calypso? Is there a specific and recognizable Calypso dance? Dorbrene O’Marde says that King Obstinate says there is no such thing as a Calypso dance. And Obsti should know. Could it be that the dances we develop or fail to develop in the Caribbean and Latina America are reflections of the social intercourse between the colonial Europeans and the transplanted Africans?

A recent article called Contrasting Empires by J. H. Elliott in the August 2006 edition of History Today compared Spanish and English colonialism and concluded that the Spaniards were more accommodating to their colonies. The late, Lord Bold Face must be blue vexed (with people trying to ambush market his name). I guess it’s like saying that all colonialisms are unequal but some are more or less unequal than others.

The Tango is a stylized, extremely sensual, adulterated, almost artificial form of what we are accused of doing at Carnival time. Yet it is very popular internationally and it attracts highly sophisticated people. I have never been to Argentina but I suspect you can find there a more vulgar form of Tango that will make the international, provocative Tango look like a May pole dance at a Sunday school picnic. I hear that the Beguine dance is one in which there are loads of waist movement (rolling hips, like rolling hills for crying out loud) but the upper body is stiff, stiff, stiff. Again, a more stylized, adulterated form of what we do at Carnival time. The French West Indian inventor of the Beguine must have had the good sense of humour that only a West Indian can muster.

What was it about English colonialism that differed from French and Spanish colonialism regarding social interaction between whites and natives? Is the absence of a calypso dance an indictment of the English speaking West Indian, reflecting our failure to weave a stylized, ornate, artificial dance that represents the conjoining of the two cultures? Is this one of the reasons why Calypso is not so popular internationally? Surely a music with a distinctive, accommodating dance will go further than a music to which you just do what comes naturally. Why has the English speaking West Indian middle class (the same ones rightfully crying out against the overt wining at Carnival) failed to find a dance between the staid ballroom dancing of the Europeans and the earthy “Sylvie Breakaway” of the Carnival wining dancers, especially when the literature of calypso is uniquely chock full of humour and mockery?

A word of caution is in order for those who may be thinking that African dancing is all about wining and vulgar simulation of sex. I have seen African dancers on stage with bare breasted women wining much more than the slackers you see at Carnival time. The female African dancers I saw were moving all over the stage and despite of (or because of) the naked breasts and the gyrating, the theme and purpose of the dance attracted more attention. In fact (wait for it) they reminded me of ballerinas. It may surprise you to learn that if you observe ballerinas carefully you will discover that when they move, especially when dancing on pointe their entire body is shaking. It has to do that for proper balance. The ballerinas are really wining but they are wining to a different rhythm.

So if you want the vulgar, adulterated sexual wining to stop, let us choreograph a dance in which the wining comes second and the entire dance and theme and story come first and we end up with a new, stylized, hybrid dance form. But this will require that we desire more, much more (mucho más) than just the succulent pig tail and pig mouth.

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