introduction
‘‘out of many, one (black) people’’
During a rehearsal for a dance performance in Kingston, Jamaica, I was
stretching and talking with members of one of the country’s premiere
concert dance companies. I noticed a fair-skinned woman with long, dark,
slightly wavy hair who was warming up with some of the other dancers in
the opposite corner of the studio. She looked familiar to me, so I asked the
artistic director whether she was the British woman who had performed
with the Company some years before. ‘‘Who? She?!’’ the director re-
sponded. ‘‘No, she is very, very Jamaican!’’ When I asked what it meant to
be ‘‘very, very Jamaican,’’ the director replied, ‘‘You know, very, very Jamai-
can. You eat plenty ackee and saltfish. You love reggae music. You talk
patois.’’ I probed further, asking whether one had to do those things all
the time to be ‘‘very, very Jamaican.’’ ‘‘Jamaica very broad you know,’’ she
answered. ‘‘Very cosmopolitan. Plenty Jamaicans even eat lasagna, but
them don’t love it more than them ackee and saltfish. And there are plenty
Jamaicans in America who are more Jamaican than Jamaicans here. Some
high class Jamaicans don’t act very, very Jamaican at all.’’
By this time, another dancer had joined the conversation. ‘‘Let me tell
you,’’ she o√ered, ‘‘I am so into my culture, the least thing will bring tears
to my eyes’’:
Going to a craft fair, seeing the women selling dukoonoo and wearing
them traditional headwrap. Going to a dance, jooksing in a corner,
reasoning with a Rastaman while him smoke him herb, watching the
dancehall girls skinning out on the floor. We are very brash, brash and
colorful. It’s the way the dancehall girls dress, the way them leave them
belly out, the way them walk, the way them wear them big earrings, the
way them color their hair. It’s a true and natural expression of how we
are deep inside.
A third dancer ultimately had the last word. ‘‘In Jamaica,’’ she said, ‘‘we
are a culture of tricksters, we are a culture of loud mouth people, we are a
culture of expressive people. If I had to use words to describe Jamaican
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