“Riding the Riddim”: Dancehall Music Crosses Geographic Boundaries


In her fascinating article, “Riding the Riddim” (Caribbean Beat March/April 2009), Trinidadian journalist Nazma Muller traces the amazing variety and “gymnastic agility” of Caribbean popular dance. With emphasis on Jamaica, Muller recounts, with as much fluidity and vibrancy as the dancers she features, the trajectory of a rich array of dances from the butterfly to the passa-passa. She also reminds the readers of how these dances can be traced back to slavery and the evolution of African rituals.

Listing many of the landmarks she comes across in her visits to clubs, stage shows, and back-alley “sessions,” Muller produces a veritable cartography of Jamaican dance history from the 80s to the present. The originality of the array of dance styles is mind-boggling: bogle, pepperseed, gully creeper, nah linger, bubble, the willy bounce, signal the plane, row the boat, running man, log on, badman pull-up, dutty wine, the hula hoop, hot wuk, raging bull, frog back, red carpet, doctor bird, and rock yuh body, among others.


As she humorously marvels at the physical exertion necessary to keep up with the constantly evolving dances, Muller highlights the way in which the Jamaican music industry, including dancehall “riddims” and clothing fashions, have crisscrossed the Caribbean and beyond. She draws attention to how dancers in Havana’s La Maison move seamlessly from traditional salsa to the dancehall influenced perreo: “A Puerto Rican dance associated with reggaetón, the perreo is not your regular socially acceptable undulation; the verb perrear translates into ‘dancing doggy-style,’ and it’s a low-down, get busy, jock-waist, rodeo-style flex. [. . .] I can only stare in amazement at the Cuban girls humping and jiggling, Jamaican style.” She also follows the voyage of the bogle to Japan and back; and finally, she traces the trajectory of the passa-passa from the Tivoli Gardens community in Kingston to Trinidad’s dancehalls.

As Muller declares, “Having lured the Japanese to Kingston’s roughest ghettos since the 80s, dancehall music will not be stopped by geographical or cultural barriers.”

For full article by Nazma Muller and photos by Roy Sweetland, see http://www.meppublishers.com/online/caribbean-beat/current_issue/index.php?pid=1000&id=cb96-1-56

For the young at heart, here are a few dancehall moves:

For how to do the butterfly, see

For how to do the log on, see

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