Resurgence of dancing, surge of pride
On Saturday, July 18, the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre on Hope Road came alive as the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) hosted the 2015 World Reggae Dance Championship semi-final. For more reasons than one, it was a show I will always remember, a moment in time, forever etched in the 'sweet memories' section of my brain.
For a long time, it has been the general consensus among several Jamaicans (myself included) that popular dance in Jamaica has not been what it once was - and perhaps, for a while, it wasn't. However, two Saturdays ago I witnessed something so amazing, it not only restored my faith in Jamaica's popular dance culture but re-opened my eyes to the influence and appeal it has outside of Jamaica.
The action onstage was electrifying, as the contestants' display of talent brought life to the venue. The participants' costumes were on fleek (the popular phrase that, in context, means on point), the choreography spot on and the gimmicks/drama to die for. But it was what happened after the show ended that simply took my breath away. The crowd stayed behind to lyme while enjoying the musical selections, but before you knew it, there was a full-fledged dance session taking place.
Now, I am not talking about the 'daggering' sessions we have been accustomed to seeing at parties these days. (Quite frankly, if that were the case, I would not have stayed because I am sick to my stomach of that kind of behaviour in the dancehall). Rather, it was the 'feel good' type of dancing that makes you want to stay at the session 'til daybreak.
Yes, it was that good.
Without even realising it, I boarded a cultural roller coaster that had my emotions in a knot. As the selector spun his web of musical hits, churning out one dance single after the other (from Buju Banton's Bogle to Elephant Man's Crazy Hype, Higher Level and Jiggy) I felt everything from excitement to pride to anger.
First, I was excited to see 'the foreigners dancing 'til dem sweat'. The more I watched these non-Jamaicans imitate our culture, the more my heart swelled with pride. I was happy to be Jamaican because of how much truth the 'we likkle but wi tallawah' statement holds. Watching people from countries as far as Sweden, Russia and Japan execute our dances gave me a feeling of joy you could only comprehend by being there yourself. We are an island with a gigantic influence on people from other countries. Our culture is so powerful, it breaks geographic barriers.
People everywhere want to be Jamaican.
Then, as the music played on, that pride quickly turned to anger. As the selector transported the guests from the beginning of the new millennium when Elephant Man commanded people to dance through his songs ringing out inside the venue, I became angry at the music fraternity for ever allowing the country's popular dance culture to lose its momentum.
As the patrons executed the Pon Di River Pon Di Bank, Gi Dem a Run, Gully Creepa, Blazay, Log On, Willie Bounce, Sesamme Street and a host of other dances, I was furious at the industry for allowing dance to 'die'. Although I respect RDX for their talent and ability to get people moving, I believe dance lost its momentum around 2007 when they opened the doors to daggering movement. Not only did the daggering era put a knife through the heart of dance, but it also left a bad taste in the mouth of the music industry. It was there that things began to go downhill and both industries never quite recovered until maybe two or so years ago.
As the songs played on, my nerves were settled and the feeling of pride took over once more. Although there was a noticeable gap between when Elephant Man, Voicemail, RDX (the pre-daggering unit responsible for dances such as To The World, Let Them Out and Skip to My Lou among others), Richie Feelings and Beenie Man (to a lesser extent) led the dancing charge to now, I was happy to see that dance is coming to life again.
In the last year or so, dance has made a tremendous comeback. With fresh, innovative moves such as Watchi Wiya, Shampoo, Syvah, Kreech, One Drop, Bruk it Dung and others, artistes like Chi Ching Ching, Ding Dong, Bling Dawg, QQ and Mr Vegas injected new life into the industry. Similar to the days when Ele made music that instructed you to dance, these artistes have realised that dance and music go hand in hand and are holding the bull by its horns and charging forward.
As a people whose influence is so great, we cannot allow dance to sit in the back seat of the culture car ever again. The renaissance of Jamaica's dance industry is now and the music fraternity must never forget that they both work in sync.