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Preserving Jamaica's oldest dance

ORIGINAL DANCEHALL QUEENS: The Quadrille dance dates back to the 17th Century

EARLIER THIS month, Jamaicans all over the world celebrated the country’s 49th year of independence.

During the festivities, The Voice spoke exclusively to Beverley Bogle, the great great grand niece of Jamaica’s first national hero, Paul Bogle, about her love of the country’s oldest dance - Quadrille - and why it was important to teach it to younger generations.

How did you get into Quadrille?

When I was a young girl in Jamaica I used to call Quadrille “ole people
dance” but now I am one of those old people dancing with a smile.

My grandson calls it “Grandma’s dance” but I discovered Quadrille 5 years ago, through the Nurses Association of Jamaica after I volunteered to be taught the dance in order to perform at their annual concert.

The short 10 minute performance was well received and after realising there was more to this dance than practiced I decided to continue learning. However, the more I learned the more I became intrigued, which later influenced my decision to form a community dance group called JANUKA - meaning Jamaican Nurses in the UK and their Associates. We began dancing in small venues enlightening people including Jamaicans on the dance while encouraging others to join our group as ambassadors.

Where does Quadrille derive from?

Apparently the term “Quad” meaning four was originally a card game for 4
people. However during the 17th century 4 horsemen and 4 horses were trained to perform a series of synchronised movements and manoeuvres in military parades in Russia, Vienna and later in Canada, which later developed to become the English Square Dance.

The name later changed to “Quadrille” in the 18th century by French dancing masters who travelled to England to study English Country Dances. The Euro-centric ballroom dance made its way to the Caribbean shores in the late 18th and early 19th century by English and French slave traders/masters who performed this dance at grand occasions in the “Great Houses”.

When slavery was abolished and the European plantocracy returned to their
homeland, they left behind Quadrille, which is still practised in Jamaica
today so much so that the dance is endorsed as part of Jamaica’s National
cultural heritage.

The costumes used in Quadrille are beautiful. Are there meanings behind the bright and bold colours?

There are three main costumes that we wear depending on the occasion or the request. The Bandana costume (red and white chequered cotton) is the
traditional costume of Jamaica, believed to be a mixture of African Kente
cloth and Scottish Tartan. The Calico and Bandana costume which is an
alternative to the full Bandana costume and last but not least is the
popular ‘black, green and gold’ costume representing the colours of the
Jamaican flag meaning ‘Hardships there are but the grass is green and the
sun shineth’.

Do other Caribbean islands dance Quadrille?

Yes! As the plantocracy population across the Americas increased, the
Quadrille dance spread across the islands and communities taking different
forms and styles. Some Caribbean islands would dance French style Quadrille while others danced English style Quadrille. In Jamaica the English style quadrille is danced and variations have been observed in different groups and parishes.

Why do you think it is important to keep the dance tradition alive?

Many people including those of Caribbean heritage living in the UK are not
aware of the historical significance of this dance and its link with the
British Empire and Africans. It is an empowering aspect of our history to
learn how our African - Jamaican ancestors learnt and adapted the English
Quadrille to affirm their free spiritedness, wisdom and versatility whilst
in captivity. Their resilience, unison, hope and determination to survive
enslavement is a powerful message that must not be forgotten.

Why did Quadrille become so popular amongst enslaved Africans?

When the displaced Africans were denied the right to perform their own
dances, speak their own languages or sing their own songs, they had to find a medium to keep their dancing spirit alive, so they cunningly adapted the Quadrille dance as a survival tactic. Quadrille gave them the opportunity to focus and learn something new and culturally different, as a distraction from the physical and emotional pain they were suffering.

The dance was a form of creative activity that kept their spirits high. The structure (dancing in couples) and discipline of the dance enabled them to support each other in their struggles, to communicate, mainly non-verbally, and to develop and maintain comradeships.
The dance also provided an opportunity for our ancestors to ridicule and
mimic their slave masters.

Being able to trace your family lineage back to Jamaica’s National hero
Paul Bogle is amazing. How has this inspired you to keep your African roots alive?

Paul Bogle, my great, great grand uncle, and his work has inspired me in
more ways than one. I am proud to be a descendant of Paul, an African-
Jamaican, because I believe he was a good man, and not a villain as he was
made out to be by the powers that be at the time and what I had read in the history books.

I admire his physical and spiritual qualities, his strong social, moral, and
religious Christian values and beliefs, his sense of self, his energy and
his leadership qualities.

Paul showed great concern and love for his community and a quest for
knowledge and understanding. He inspired and empowered people to fight for their rights. The Morant Bay uprising that he led was primarily about gaining economic viability for the freed slaves who were still living in
poverty and being oppressed by the colonial system.

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