New Dancehall teacher Cindy Claes: Backpacking in Jamaica
I always dreamed of going to Jamaica and experience the “real thing”. I am a caucasian
white female dancer and a lonely traveller. I am a grown up woman but I still look like
an innocent teenager with dimples. With all the horror stories about gun men luring in
Kingston, no need to say nobody ever encouraged me to go for my dreams!
Let me resume my journey as follows: At first, I was perceived as a cute dreamer longing
to visit Kingston. When I got all funds sorted and booked my flight, people stopped in
shock and thought I was an irresponsible nutter risking her life in the “hoods”. Finally,
when I came back from Jamaica alive, full of anecdotes of my performances and about
the friends I made, I was a true inspiration for some, and I guess a miraculous survivor for
In 2010, I received a small grant from ADAD. And so... I went for the first time! My
purpose was calling me...
It’s still hot because the sun has been shining all day. Mosquitoes tattooed every bit of
bare skin they found on me with some big red dots. No choice but to hide the disaster.
I’m wearing some leggings which kinda ruins the sexiness of my batty riders, but so it is. I
run downstairs while putting on some lipstick and jump in the car. The dance crew picks
me up and we drive off to “the dancehall session”... well... the first one of a long series! It’s
1am and the night only started. The first club is in the open air. You feel the heat and the
wind only breezes when it wants to. A big tree stands on the right of the dance floor. We
jam on some reggae tunes and all the girls whine slowly on the mellow-mellow dancehall
tracks. People calmly sip on their beers.
Suddenly, the whole crowd leaves and decides it’s over. It’s 2am. Time to go to the
next party! Taxis and cars head towards the same direction. We arrive, park quickly
and walk in with elegance and assurance. The dancehall session is outdoors again.
It’s happening in some sort of parking lot. Every dance crew takes their stance around
the empty dancefloor. It’s dark. Only the blinding spotlight of the camera creates some
shadows in the now over-crowded place. The men have their sunglasses on, wearing
yellow skinny jean, green T-shirt and golden chains. The DJ is the master of ceremony.
He knows exactly in which order to play the riddims to get the crowd moving, whining,
going crazy or calming down. To express their excitement, people loudly hit and shake
the closed gates of surrounding shop windows. Without warning, every crew start fighting
for the spotlight, doing their latest dance moves in unison, trying to attract the attention of
the lens and pushing their way through to be caught on tape. The excitement gets me! I
jump in on every routine I know. I watch the dancers and realize they truly celebrate their
creativity, sharing with the world the steps they are the proud inventors of. The crowd
joins in the act of worshipping “dance”. Things calm down again and female bom cheeks
whine slowly on the side. Again, this only lasts a few minutes as immediately afterwards
the DJ screams on the mic, tells the ladies to bent over, and here we go... All the girls fall
into splits, they “bruk out” and take over the dance floor! Batty riders of all shapes and
colors are bouncing up and down! No man would dare intervening on the scene, they just
stand on the side holding their beer. The girls are proudly demonstrating their skills while
the camera man plays it naughty and zooms in. Things calm down, for a moment...
All of a sudden, the crowd leaves the place, again! Everyone rushes out. It’s over. It’s
4.30am, time for the next party! We drive over and all the cars seem to reach at the
exact same time. We enter a club. The police might come and shut down the place, or
we might party until the sun comes up, who knows... The dancers are on fire! Dance
moves, choreography, madness, humor and sweat invade the dancefloor. Beer is spilled
all over the place, buckets full of ice (to keep the drinks cold) are falling over. The floor is
a mess, but all of this does not matter, it’s daggering time! Men and women partner up,
girls bend over, men execute stunts, some people hang off the speakers, the DJ keeps
screaming, three woman go into headtops and whine. Choreography takes place again,
and everyone joins in. You got to know the moves, you want to know the moves! My
body is in trance, its madness everywhere, the riddims drive me crazy, the beat pours in
happiness in my soul... and in no time... it’s 7am... I think... clear daylight. Everyone head
towards the parking and we leave as if nothing ever happened.
That’s how I spent most of my nights in Jamaica. Not easy to keep up, I swear! All naps
were welcome and whenever I could, I closed my eyes for a few minutes and snored!
During the day I was dancing and training hard too. I studied the traditional dance forms
of Jamaica at Edna Manley College. I learned about the history of slavery, and the impact
it had on the arts. Also, Orville Hall, one of the most respected dancehall choreographers,
took me under his wing. I performed with Dance Xpressionz.
To all the female travelers out there, I would like to encourage you to follow your heart!
Are we women vulnerable when traveling on our own? Perhaps. I admit I do have a
guardian angel looking after me. But so do you, if you believe so. I wish you many safe
and magical dance trips!
VIDEO: dance backpacking in Jamaica: Click here to watch video
VIDEO: dancehall workshops with Cindy:Click here to watch video