Friday, July 10, 2009

first pass at dancing isht in JA

I hadn't gotten around to posting videos from Boasy Tuesday. But now I will. I have a lot of thoughts kicking around about the importance of dancers in the scene.. here's a first pass to get started with.

If you've been checking out especially the men's fashion at the street dances, there are a lot of interesting choices: things like plucked eyebrows,

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makeup, skin bleaching, extremely tight pants, lots of accessories including bows

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cravats scarves and enormous chains, and elaborate hairdos involving braids and bright un"natural" colors.

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Until recently, I don't think these choices were common for men in Jamaica. They were more associated with women. Especially since overall I haven't heard people recognize any difference between messing with gender and messing with sexuality (or between being transgender vs. being gay), many folks here say the fashion "looks gay."

NOTE, for any newcomers: It is IMPOSSIBLE to know what anyone's actual sexual practices are from looking at their clothing. People choose what to wear based on what it means to them, but there is no way to tell what it means to them without reading their minds, or asking them, and also understanding exactly where they come from. Fashion moves so fast that styles from one year have a completely different meaning a few years later - for many people, denim jeans were workwear that showed you were poor or low-class, but now denim jeans can be a symbol of wealth (if they are the right kind), or dreadlocks had a very different meaning in Jamaica 20 years ago compared to now. So braids and hair dye's meaning is hard to parse. And now, because styles move back and forth overseas, due to internet access, cable TV, and video, the meaning of people's fashion choices are even more complicated - are they dressed to connect themselves to an image they saw on TV (which might have come from the UK or the Republic of Congo or Japan), or to evoke an image from up the street?

So what I am talking about hear is NOT about the dancers' personal lives, what they are doing at home or what they are thinking or who they have sex with. It is about how people are talking about dancers, and what the dancers' choices seem to mean in the larger context of Jamaican society.

So another fact about many of the popular dances (the ones with names), as you will see below, is that except for daggering, they are mostly men dancing in groups with each other. So, both the fashion and the dancing appears to bring up anxiety in Jamaica and elsewhere, especially about the dancers' sexuality.

Once again, I'm talking about anxiety by OTHER people, I'm not talking about how the dancers see themselves or what they are actually like. I'm talking about public discussions about dancers. These discussions are very interesting.

I've heard it on the radio, read newspaper articles, and heard many people in upper and lower-class scenes talk about it. And the anxiety and criticism is performed publicly at the dances themselves. While Boasy Tuesday is one of the hottest dances in Kingston, and its hotness is due to the dancers there, the DJ at Boasy regularly goes on extended rants, often without music, about how "man nuh dance with man" (men [should] not dance with another man), and there are a slew of songs out right now about that, with lots of lyrics about how the proper way to dance is in a man-woman pair.

Elephant Man, who is a major promoter of these fashions (although it's hard to say whether he is a leader or follower of the dancers' fashions),


(note the keffiyehs worn several creative ways in the video!)

Elephant Man is as usual a total genius at coming up with a new song and associated dance every week, mostly of the non-partner variety, but also simultaneously coming out with songs about partner dancing, including a ska song. Interestingly, many DJs and radio announcers and older Jamaicans hearken back to Ska as a music and dancing scene were people were properly paired off in couples.

Also interesting: I have heard many people in Jamaica hearken back to Ska as an era when things were not as lewd. This may seem so nowadays, but memory maybe glosses over a lot of the era. As Dennis Howard points out, "slack" (sexual) lyrics have always been around, and certainly if you look at the commentary on Ska at the time, the powers that be didn't think of it as sweet and peaceful music but as disturbing, sexual and lowclass. And it's not like times have changed so much, Prince Buster's "wreck a pum pum" sounds kinda dirty anytime, once you know what pum pum is..

but enough chat for now, later I will push more on these issues (including the possible decline of DJs and dubplates and the rise of dancers as a creative force in JA -- ideas here developed in more detail as part of a fascinating presentation at the Caribbean Studies Association annual meeting by Josh Chamberlain of UWI's Cultural Studies graduate program/Soul Of The Lion, as well as other people I spoke with-- and also my thoughts on the political & social implications of Jamaica having homegrown performers who are gender-bending and sexuality-challenging, who are also "cool" and have "street cred.")

anyway enjoy!!




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