Thursday, April 18, 2024

Culture of and for people

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AS I SAT awaiting the football match on Sunday, with waning interest I watched as the pre-game entertainment displayed the best of South Africa.  I, attentive, tried to get a glimpse of African culture, dress, music or peculiar style I know to be ever present everywhere one turns on the continent. Spatterings. What was present were remnants, sprinklings of their style. What we were graced with were large dollops of inner city American black ghetto style, garish costumes and movements and music . . . another case of a people choosing the popular over their own. It occurred to me that with the Caribbean in such close proximity to the American border, the instance of cultural imperviousness is all the more real. The challenge of maintaining our cultures, albeit plantation throwbacks for the most part, continues to be our dogged challenge. A few weeks ago the annual Caribbean Studies Conference was held, bringing together many of the finest of Caribbean scholars.One such was L’Antoinette Osunde Stines, PhD. A professional dancer, just receiving her doctorate in cultural studies from the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, she spoke at length about why it was essential for us to celebrate and identify the movement, the music, the style that comes out of us, our experience as Caribbean people. She brought two young people with her to this meeting of scholastic Caribbean minds. Their sole purpose there was to demonstrate what L’Antoinette Stines was saying. And demonstrate they did. On beginning her talk, she traced the history and movement of our peoples, to the movements of dance they each brought. The young woman and young man broke into classic ballet moves. On Dr Stines’ cues they moved into Carib, African, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and then American black ghetto culture. All of these were depicted separately, and were recognised as distinct forms and influences. It was then to the amazement of the panel and the packed audience, that L’Antoinette led them in a synthesis of all of the influences, then depicting how that synthesis showed itself in Jamaica, in Haiti, in Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Bahian community in Brazil, the black people of Belize and Mexico and Guyana, uniquely. She invited a young lady from the audience, who performs regularly with the tuk band here in Barbados, demonstrating Barbados as the least influenced by any than the British and a tip of African, to perform the traditional wine of tuk band Sally. L’Antoinette then had the female dancer she’d brought do a slow wine, breaking into bogle and ballet, creating a move entirely different and yet reminiscent of the three original styles. It all was gracious, exciting, affirming and a joy to behold. Dr Stines, a trained dancer, choreographer and self-acclaimed synthesiser with the National Jamaica Dance Theatre, attributes her initial understandings of the beauty within Caribbean movement and the requirement to formulate it into dance for stage to Professor Rex Nettleford. She recounts how as a child in a household of many, her mother was little able to afford dance lessons; so week after week she would rocket out of the schoolyard and hide away under the window of the ballet class. In this way she picked up the moves, until the ballet teacher brought her into the class – a thankful and charitable act for a woman who was to contribute so much to the region’s development through dance. She insists that the minds of young men and women are creating these movements all the time as they become conscious of their bodies and what their bodies can do. When thought about in these ways, investing in national instruments for dance and theatre are excellent avenues in which the energies and creativity can be channelled, but more nurtured and elaborated. Stines herself is the artistic director and founder of L’Acadco: A United Caribbean Dance Force, the creator of the L’Antech Carimod Technique and WOW Concepts. An expert in the Yoruba traditions brought to the Caribbean, Stines is sought throughout the region and hemisphere for her creativity and application of this  development. When this perhaps five-foot-two woman walks into a room, one hardly notices, so humble and unassuming is her demeanour. It is only when she opens her mouth that the conviction and passion and grace of her contribution to us is truly felt as a gift, a lesson for us all to value and cherish what we have developed here as ours.
• Michelle Cave has done her thesis on the regional integration movement.

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