Shake Your Hips to Jamaica’s Traditional Island Dances


Music and dance are two elements of Jamaican culture that you should consider experiencing during your visit to the island. Many original dances in Jamaica are of African origin, and Jamaicans love to dance. The traditional dances of the island bear a striking resemblance to African dances, but the newer dance moves are more global and infuse hip-hop, jazz, and other international dance forms.

The single most popular and traditional dance is the “Kumina,” which originated in West Africa. This style of dance is predominantly found in the parishes of St. Thomas and St. Mary and is otherwise known as “Kalunga” or “Kaduunga.”

Kumina features flat-footed inching of the feet (or the kongo step), a steady, but often subtle forward-thrusting of the hip with the rib cage and arms moving against the hip, followed by wild spins and sudden breaks, all signaled by the lead drum. The dominant elements of Kumina are dance, music, spirit possession, healing, and the use of herbs.

The drums used in the dance are the Kbandu, which provide the basic rhythms, and “Playing Cast,” the lead drum. These go together with candles, graters, shakas and catta sticks, played on the back of the drum. According to Jamaica Journal, Volume 10, No.1, “Linguistic evidence cites the kongo as a specific ethnic source for the ‘language’ and possibly the music of Kumina.” There are Congolese words in some of the Kumina songs performed in Jamaica, which shows Jamaica’s connection to Africa.

A Kumina session involves dancing and drumming of two natures. Bailo is more public and less sacred, where songs are sung mainly in Jamaican dialect. Country is more African in nature and is a serious dance involving two leaders, a male and a female. The leaders must be able to control the zombies, or spirits, and assume their positions of leadership after careful training in their feeding habits, ritual procedures, dances, rhythms, and songs of a variety of spirits, conducted by a previous king or “captain” and queen or “mother.”

Jamaica has a vibrant Kumina dance group called the Port Morant National and International Kumina Dancers. The group has been around for as long as most members of the group can remember, including Bernice Henry, who states, “The group has been around from when I was born. My grandmother was an old African woman. My mother passed it on and I passed it down to our children.” Bernice says that the group consists of about twenty members, and sometimes they have to form smaller groups, depending on the occasion.

Other traditional folk dances are Dinki Mini, Quadrille, Bruckins, Mento, Maypole, and Junkunoo. The Dinki Mini/Minnie Gerreh is a type of dance generally done in the eastern end of the island, even though Gerreh is from the west. This dance is said to be done when an individual in the community dies, and the dancers perform this dance in celebration of the person’s life.

Ettu/Etu is practiced mainly in Hanover by people who claim Yoruba ancestry; this type of dance is normally performed at weddings, feasts, nine nights, and forty nights. The Nago dance is a Westmoreland based dance which is similar to Etu, mainly practiced at dances. Buru/Burru is a variant of John Kunnu, which is believed to be a fertility masquerade dance.

Jamaica is indeed a culture of dancing and dancers! Be sure that you too feel the rhythm and learn a few dance moves the next time you visit.

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