Dance is such a wonderful artistic expression, influenced by history and culture. Jamaica has a rich heritage of traditional dances, but today many of them are hardly known. With time new dances emerge that express today’s culture replacing some traditional dances. Thankfully local cultural festivals help to keep traditional dance forms alive.
Here is a list of Jamaica’s traditional dances, which you might find strange since several are not English words – bruckins, burru, dinki-minni, ettu, gerreh, gumbay, jonkunnu, kumina, maypole, myai, quadrille, tambu and zella.
To the unschooled eye, these traditional dances look alike, but there are distinct differences in the movement of the arms, legs and hips. Look carefully at the YouTube video below.
Besides cultural festival and competitions you can see some of these dances at certain events, such as a nine-night to celebrate the life of a lost one and encourage those in mourning. Kumina is more than a dance, it is a religion that many Jamaicans still practice.
Some dances, like quadrille are for couples; while others involve a troupe of dancers, such as jonkunnu. The maypole which came from Europe is generally considered a children’s dance.
These traditional dances are deeply influenced by Jamaicans’ African ancestry and colonial history. Yet there are other traditional dances from Asia (India and China) that came with successive waves of migrants in the late 1800s and in recent years celebrated as part of Jamaica’s rich dance heritage.
Here is YouTube videos by JIS on traditional Jamaican dances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOux_Y6tFgU
Artwork by Stafford Schliefer, Pocomankunnu Dancer