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Dance Researcher Explains Origins of Island Dances

March 26, 2006 – A longtime dance researcher and professor of Caribbean dance shared some of her latest research on the region's dance forms with a small group of residents Saturday at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Yvonne Daniel, professor emerita of dance and Afro-American Studies at Smith College, Northampton, Mass., lectured on her current project, the "Belè Complex."
Her research focuses on the historical processes and the development of Africanized European dance forms in the Caribbean from the 17th century to the present.
Daniel, who is currently a Rockefeller fellow in residence at the Alton Augustus Adams Music Research Institute (AMRI) in St. Thomas, has been researching dance for almost 36 years.
During her lecture, Daniel spoke of the various types of dance in the Caribbean with an emphasis on parading dances and contredanse or colonial dances such as the Belè and Quadrille, which were a mixture of both European and African cultural dances.
"These dances are characterized by limited or no touching, with set steps and sometimes involved a caller," Daniel said, adding there were minor variations in the differing Caribbean islands she visited.
Daniel used the term "mbelè" to define the parading dances and the contredanse because, despite the clear European influence, they both had underlying roots of Central African dance.
She presented various video clips of these types of dance, including clips of Martinique Belè, the Dominican (Republic) jacana and a St. Lucian form of quadrille.
Daniel's residence in St. Thomas began in January and will end on May 31. While here she will study the local forms of quadrille. Daniel said she was pleased to be able to research her project in the territory.
"[The fellowship] has offered me a chance to look at this fascinating mixture of African and European dances," Daniel said. "I want to meet all the local dancers and musicians."
Daniel said she hopes she can get feedback from the public about the local forms of contredanse to include in her current project while here at AMRI.
AMRI was established in 2001 on St. Thomas in the ancestral home of Adams, a composer, musician, bandleader and community activist. The institute facilitates the study and documentation of black music in the Caribbean region, particularly in the Virgin Islands.
AMRI presents a series of summits that document the lives of important music and dance tradition bearers on all three islands. The organization also offers workshops that demonstrate preservation and documentation techniques so that V.I. residents can research and study local cultural traditions and provides professional development workshops for teachers.
The institute also publishes a biannual newsletter entitled "Cariso!" and maintains a small but growing resource center. It is located in Charlotte Amalie at 1-B Kongens Gade, Suite 1-B, and is open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (340) 715-5680 for further information.
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