Nadine White, Voice Reporter
SCORNED AS a vulgar presentation of male fantasies and equally adored as one of the various colourful manifestations, which underpin the vibrance of dancehall culture, Dancehall Queens (DHQs) are entangled in a web of opposing sentiments.
Despite the negative opinion which DHQs typically attract from an 'uptown' demographic, their general story is one of success.
The first DHQ was Carlene Smith, crowned in Jamaica in 1992. Following this, Big Head Promotions staged its first DHQ competition in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1996 and it has been running ever since.
In 2002, history was made when Japanese dancer Junko Kudo became the first non-Jamaican to take the crown, which led to an influx of female dancers from all over the globe participating in the contest, making it an international affair.
Since then, the DHQ hype has taken off with contests being held all over Europe, The United States and Japan.
The sexually provocative dancing featured in these competitions has also infiltrated the mainstream facets of dancehall entertainment, such as the music videos and dance trends.
However, women jiggling and whining to the bass line can cause offence. Some parents cry out against their children's exposure to over-eroticised movements and sociological theorists have stated that this kind of dancing is an indication of a 'crisis within the female'.
Opposed to DHQ culture
Writer Robert Cooper spoke out against the DHQ culture in this way, addressing the matter in a powerful article for the New African Magazine a couple of years ago.
"The clothes worn by dancehall queens have shrunk to less and less, while the dances have grown increasingly vulgar. It is time for black women to reclaim their bodies and redefine their sexuality. The world should say full stop to sexually objectifying our sisters."
Indeed, skimpy attire is a widely associated feature of DHQs. Paired with the lewd dance routines, it has caused some to question whether the status of 'queen' means that these women are seen as equal to their male counterparts or in fact, the complete opposite.
English feminist sociologist, Susan Manning, argues that viewing the near-naked female body in a public capacity is demeaning and de-powering.
On the other hand, in 18th century France, white upper class females (known as courtesans) would frequent the male-dominated arena of the court and dance for their suitors, eventually gaining their companionship, affection and respect.
In other words, these women would go and 'look man' by dancing for them! They did this completely out of free will and were not oppressed. In fact, these women were bold, as opposed to stereotypically docile, and through their dancing, actually came to be treated as equals to men.
So although the time, location and ethnicity of the women differ, the concept of dancing to entice the mass male audience can interestingly be applied to both the dancehall and a white aristocratic setting. This begs the question: Who is in control here, really? It would seem that women actually are.
Furthermore, DHQs can be seen as a mutual, heterosexual celeb-ration of the erotic side of women.
On a topic such as this, it was only fitting that we caught up with Jamaican dancer Keiva Da Diva, one of the island's more popular female dancers. Although not a Dancehall Queen, Keiva is certainly a Queen of Dancehall and a true choreographer, having appeared in over 100 music videos, working with most of the dancehall artistes in the game such as Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Konshens and Mr Vegas.
Speaking recently to entertainment journ.alist, Francesca Quaas, Keiva declared: "A female dancer has to work twice as hard as a man."
On the topic of self-assertion, she went on to say: "Everyone has a right to express themselves," adding, "You have to consider that DHQs make the dancehall nice.
"I would agree that they are getting more daring. But I'm not going to bash them. It enables them to eat."
Look out for tomorrow's Gleaner when we take a look at what Carlene, Mavado and Professor Carolyn Cooper have to say.