Tap to Read ➤

Everything You Need to Know about Traditional Jamaican Dance

Samarpita Choudhury
With colonial aggression and the toll taken by slavery, Jamaican culture has undergone vast changes in its culture. In the present times, when it is more drawn towards popular music and similar genre, some traditional dance forms are etched strongly among people.

Music Being the Mission

The National Dance Theater Company was established post independence in Jamaica, with a vision to attain excellence in traditional dance.
Xaymaca or modern-day Jamaica, an island country amidst the Caribbean Sea, has a lot of things to say about the traditional practices it follows. The literary meaning of the word is 'land of springs'. Like many countries of the world, Jamaica too has imbibed many things from the European culture, which enlists religion, art, dance, and music.
Dance is a form of art that is practiced so diligently by the Jamaicans, that the line between religion and dance, for them, is very fade. The traditional Jamaican dance is a visually appealing blend of European dance, along with the Jamaican traditional styles and moves.
Because of colonization, this country has been highly influenced by the European dance forms, which was further enhanced by their own native styles.
Their form of dance and music vividly testify the fact that their primitive ancestors, who were slaves, developed ways and means to enjoy life in servitude. Hence, dance was, by far, one of the best ways of expression and celebration.
Jamaican history narrates that there were types of dances that were categorized as work dance and dance of celebration by the Jamaican slaves. If one has to know about the diversification of Jamaican traditional dance, the best way is to know the three broad categories of it. These are African, European, and Creole.

African Dance Forms

African dances are closely related to religious dances. They are mainly performed during traditional ceremonies and worships. When discussing about these African dance forms of the Jamaicans, it is mandatory to speak about the Maroon tribe. These are the Africans who were slaves. They fled and escaped from Central Africa into the mountainous terrains of Jamaica. They have and are still putting in immense effort to sustain the African dance in Jamaica.

European Dance Forms

The prohibition of slaves to practice their own dance form propelled them to adopt European customs. This was made more familiar to the slaves by the superior house servants, who were hired at the European homes, and also the slave musicians, who played at social gatherings of the Europeans. Thus, imitation of the European culture led to the loss of originality, and in more precise terms, resulted in a 'mixed' culture, with little resemblance to the original.

Creole Dance Form

In a nutshell, this form of dance is a mixture of the above two forms. Slavery hovered over Jamaica, and brought irreversible changes to the land and its people. The liberation extended to the Jamaicans in 1834, to stop this malpractice. This called for celebrations, which gave rise to yet another dance form that was a fusion of the European and African style of dancing.

African Dance Forms


In this dance form, the purpose is to establish contact with the spiritual realm, through dance, songs, music, and religious sacrifices or offerings. Here, the dancer's body is believed to be possessed by the spirits, and through the dancer they communicate, leading the dancer into a phase of 'trance'. This possession is known as the Mayal.
The dancers are supposed to maintain a posture, where their backs are upright, the hips move, with the feet moving along the ground. In this fashion, the dancers dance around the musicians, making a circular pattern.


It is believed that John Canoe, more popularly Jonkonnu, is one of the longest surviving and famous traditional Jamaican dance and folk festival. It draws its name from a Black merchant called John Conny, colloquially known as Jonkonnu. It is a renowned Christmas festival because Christmas is one of those rare occasions when the slaves were granted the liberty to celebrate and make merry.
The striking factor in this dance form is the use of masks and the dance of the Pitchy-Patchy. The participants include the Pitchy-Patchy, Cowhead, Horsehead, Warriors, the Belly Woman, and the Devil. With the European influence, Jonkonnu expanded to have even a king and a queen along with some English dance moves like polkas and jigs.

Gerreh and Dinki Mini

These two forms of Jamaican traditional dance go hand in hand. The theme of these dances is to lament for the dead, and the consolation provided to the bereaved family. It also highlights the fact that the people are mightier than death, as man can reproduce. This is visible in the dance steps they follow, which involves the pelvis.
Gerreh is performed in the western end of the island, and the eastern part displays Dinki Mini. These dance forms span through the nine-night observation of death and funeral rituals.


This is a revival dance form. It involves soul-drenching music accompanied by lively dance, setting the dancers in a state of trance. This dance form is practiced with loud, rhythmic drum strokes. This is mainly an off-shoot of Revivalism in Jamaica, back in 1861. In Pocomania, there is a leader of the dance, who is a male dancer, and is known as the 'shepherd'.
In this dance form, space is given to the spirit to possess any of the dancers. The spirits invoked are of three types, viz., Earth-bound, Heavenly, and Ground spirits.


This dance form is linked to the Yoruba tribe. The main occasions where this dance is performed are during festive occasions like a wedding ceremony, social gatherings, feasts, and also during death rituals like 'forty night'. The dancers are 'purified' by passing white rum to them. This rhythmic dance form is practiced at night. The songs used in this dance are sung in the Yoruba language, and are usually short rhythmic phrases. The movement of the feet is very profound.

European Dance Forms


During the 18th and 19th centuries, this dance form found its way into the Jamaicans. Its form is similar to the English and the French. It was mainly performed in happy occasions such as weddings, high teas, and other functions organized by the community. The dance is inspired by a 'ballroom' setting, very much like the European style.
As the name suggests, the dancers are the four couples, who make the four corners of a square, with the dancers facing inwards towards the square. Amongst these dancers, one couple is the head couple, while the remaining are the followers. The music comprised the European dance tunes. With the turn of the century and exposure to the American dance styles, Quadrille lost its charm so much that now it's performed only during festive occasions and celebrations, which take place annually.


As is obvious from the name, this European dance style was commonly performed in the month of May by the Europeans. The dancers mainly consist of females, though couples are also featured sometimes. The main element of music is the Mento.
The distinguishing feature of this dance form is the plaiting of the pole with colorful ribbons. It is a happy dance, celebrating spring, and is now performed at big social gatherings, picnics, fairs, and the like. Various shapes are the manners in which the dance is displayed; more popular ones are the web and the umbrella.


Like the Pocomania, this dance is also a revival dance. Unlike, Pocomania, which is more close to the African tradition, Zionism is found similar to the European origin. Like the former, it also has a leader in the dance, who can be a male, or a female, contrary to Pocomania which has only the male as the leader.
The male leader is known as the 'captain', and the female is known as the 'madda', meaning mother. The music and the pattern of possession in these two forms of Revival dance are also markedly different.

The Creole Dance Form


Termination of slavery in Jamaica gave rise to Bruckins. It involves the processions by the kings, queens, and the courtiers. Music is Afro-European style, with drums forming the core of the music. This dance form hails from Italy, and was eventually introduced and adopted in other parts of Europe.
The main factor of this dance genre is the vibrant, bright-colored costumes, and the skills of the dancers, who are divided into two groups. The time of the dance is usually in the late afternoons and evenings.
If dance is the heart of Jamaicans, then music is the soul of that heart. Jamaican dance is diverse and electrifying because of the traditional music that accompanies the dance. The musical instruments consist of the drum, flute, trumpet, and also instruments that have strings. The sounds of these when combined automatically lead one to dance. Thus, Jamaican dance is very enthralling for obvious reasons.