Quadrille in the Caribbean

The Caribbean Quadrille can be found on numerous Caribbean islands and with a specific form particular to each. Although its structure is clearly defined and the steps are mostly set, the Quadrille is a vibrant and joyous dance full of creole flair.

Speaking of the Caribbean as a whole is not simple because of the many islands that constitute the region, as well as the many peoples that populate them and those peoples’ histories. The same is true for the Quadrille dance. Each island has its own Quadrille dance (among other traditional dances) and each smaller region on each island often has a particular variant of the dance.

As developed in the Caribbean, Quadrilles take the basics of the formal French le Quadrille de contredanses and mix them with traditional African styles of dance, making the style less rigid and more fluid and rhythmic.

Jamaica
There are two forms of Quadrille dance in Jamaica: Ballroom Quadrille and Camp style Quadrille.

Ballroom Quadrille
Danced by four couples in a square formation. The two head couples perform simple steps to move across the dance area and are then followed by the two side couples. The dance focuses more on the spacial formations created by the movement of the couples across the floor rather than intricate footwork. The dance is made up of four figures (1- 4) and there is little room for improvisation. Body movements tend to be more held and uplifted.

Camp Style Quadrille
Danced in couples in two long lines and steps and moves are executed by all couples simultaneously. On occasion a compere guides the dance with instructions to perform specific steps, movements and changes in direction (for example, at fairs). Improvisation within the dance is encouraged and the body movement is generally freer and looser than in the Ballroom Quadrille.

‘Slaves taught slaves, but they felt that the English style Quadrille was too military, they needed to relax, they wanted to interact, and bring out some of their African-ness, which of course they were not allowed to do, so they adapted the English style Quadrille, and what they danced in the camp is what we call ‘Camp style Quadrille.’
Beverley Bogle, JANUKA

‘A lot of non-verbal communication goes into the dance, ‘I fancy you.’ ‘Let’s meet down by the river.’ ‘We’re going to plan a meeting about revolting tomorrow night.’ All of this occurred through dance without the slave masters understanding the symbols. Our ancestors had to survive and they used whatever medium they had to do so. They danced for every occasion, life and death all wrapped up into one.’
Beverley Bogle, JANUKA

‘Quadrille is a square dance of French origin, consisting of several figures, performed by four couples. This dance is a mixture of Dinkimini and Kumina (African dances).’
Hazel Canzius, retired teacher, Jamaica

St Lucia

Quadrilles that are indigenous to St. Lucia include the Widova, the Moulala, and lakonmet, (also called the Mazouk) which derived from the French minuet. The Lakonmet is a popular dance because it is the only closed couple dance of St. Lucian origin.

It is the French culture of Quadrille, retaining more elements of the Cotillion, that dominates in St Lucia.

Cotillion translates as petticoat. The dance of that name required the lifting and swishing of petticoats. This is retained in the French Quadrilles and makes the dance appear quite flirtatious. (An exaggerated version of this can be seen in another French dance, the cancan.) Another element of courtship ritual integrated into the dance is the chivalry displayed by male dancers as they put their hand behind their backs.

Although improvisation is not a key feature in the St Lucian Quadrille and the steps and figures are set, creative expression is very visible in the details of each dancer’s particular body movement.