Current research

2020-21 OSU Global Arts and Humanities Fellowship

Caribbean Dance:
Identity, History and

Project Overview: 

My paternal ancestry within the Lesser Antilles Island of Dominica has shaped my curiosity in how the history and mobility of Caribbean dance has affected Caribbean identity. Historically, cultural dance anthropologists have generalized these embodied tendencies to the Greater Antilles Caribbean geographical region, neglecting the multifaceted and valuable existence of the Lesser Antilles identity. I aim to explain this narrative through a dance film emphasizing my autoethnographic perspective on cultural heritage and the necessity for cultural rights.

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My West-Indian Caribbean identity serves as a large inspiration for this project. Each individual holds a cultural identification that relates to personal lineage and provides connections to a broader community. As a dancer, these communities are vital to modes of communication and allowing commonalties to translate across borders. However, the specific aesthetics that make up a culture are unique to that entity and encourage an understanding for cultural origin and dignity that is essential for positive mobilization.

What is Caribbean Dance?

Caribbean dance is a movement aesthetic evoking celebration, liberation, ritual, peace and pride that is identifiable to populations of the Caribbean Islands. Generations of enslavement, parliamentary rule and identity crises allow the Caribbean body to dance for freedom despite the reality of colonial oppression. Dance artists Katherine Dunham, Ronald K. Brown, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and others are known for their contributions in the mobilization of Caribbean dance and culture. Their work pinpoints the Greater Antilles islands (Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cayman Islands) and rejects the rich history within the Lesser Antilles (British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Trinidad, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and Grenada). However, the larger issue lies behind this exposure, encouraging a misinterpretation of the Caribbean identity from a colonized perspective, excluding the real voices of the West Indian Caribbean people. This can encourage the same modes of colonial domination that have affected West Indian culture as a whole.

Interviews with Caribbean dance artists Kieron Sargeant and Candace Thompson-Zachery, along with lectures, webinars and articles helped to recognize Caribbean dance as a survival tactic that exists in the constant shifting of Caribbean identity and among society. All of this information was collected in mind maps that carry a breakdown of Caribbean Dance and Caribbean Identity as a de-colonial act that thrives in Caribbean atmospheres and in the bodies of Caribbean people. In a curated dance film (link below), I present this cultural right to Caribbean dance as essential and valuable to dance research and to the Caribbean identity.

From an autobiographical perspective, I was able to connect more with my culture. I investigated memories of family functions. I utilized pictures to imagine the environment and inspire movement. The ability to discuss with family members and learn about the kinship the thrives in Caribbean culture was comforting. As I embodied this experience, I gained a closer relationship with my identity and history behind cultural mobilization in the Caribbean Islands.