The glint of the first convertible carrying Parade Marshal George Lewis peeped around the Mongoose Junction bend around noon, signaling the start of hours filled with everything that the St. John Celebration is well known for: royalty, pans, majorettes, mokos on towering stilts, grassroots troupes and lots — and lots — of mas.
At one point, the heat topped 100 degrees, and though most on the route had lined up since 8 a.m., no one seemed to notice. Hips were swaying in tune with the band trucks, skirts twirled during the performances, and the queens, with their crowns and shimmering dresses, sat straight and elegant as they descended down the road.
“It has just been the best time,” St. John Celebration Queen Tae Zha Maduro said. “All of the events have been amazing, the Village has been jam-packed — my favorite was seeing Rock City perform — and it’s been wonderful just being out with my friends and family. Today, too. The costumes are incredible, the crowd is so enthusiastic and you can just feel the excitement in the air.”
Indeed, the crowd was interactive, with no shortage of spectators coming off the sidewalks to dance or take pictures with the performers. In the background, the music was insistent, alternating between the pounding of the Love City Pan Dragons’ or Pan In Motion’s steel drums — two St. John staples — at the beginning of the route to the sounds of Karnage or Nailah Blackman’s “Come Home” blasting from the speakers of DJ’s accompanying the rest of the performers.
“There’s just nothing better than this,” said Kenneth Harrigan, whose Wild Clowns partnered with Pan in Motion this year for an expanded performance. “We’ve been doing this 35 years now and we just love it — with the music, you just can’t stop your feet from moving on the road.”
The coordinated movements of the two sets of majorettes marching behind the pans also matched the notes, along with the swirling of batons that kissed the air when they were tossed. Celebrating their 38th anniversary, the Charming Twirlers Majorettes opted for gauzy Fourth of July-themed costumes, while the hot pink, light blue and orange of the St. Thomas Majorettes provided a vibrant silhouette as their members flew through hoops, bounced on mini-stilts and brought on cheers from the crowd with their acrobatics.
Added color — pinks, brilliant blues, and reds — burst from the costumes of students and faculty from the St. John School of Performing Arts, who celebrated, with an entry called “Flocking to the Arts,” all of the birds that had been sighted on the island this year. From flamingos to bananaquits, the students embraced making their own headbands and foot and armbands while the school’s fashion design and sewing class completed all of the beading, said Executive Director Jeune Provost.
V.I. madras made its appearance in the long-legged costumes of the Essentric Moko Jumbies and, closely behind, Yisrael Petersen’s New Generation Cultural Moko Jumbies, who also added in stripes, bold African prints and bright parasols. Petersen’s group is St. John-based, which student Mariella Renoso, 17, said gave her the extra push she needed to join.
“I’ve always been a dancer, but from since I was little, I’ve wanted to try being a moko jumbie,” she said as she laced up her stilts. “I finally found someone who does it here, on St. John, and I couldn’t wait to start. I began a couple of months ago, in May, and I’ve just fallen in love with it. It’s such an incredible form of self-expression.”
The madras was also a centerpiece in the costumes of the V.I. For Life troupe, which chose to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Emancipation Day.
“The troupe is actually a cultural group,” said coordinator Loren Williams, who also hosted this year’s Celebration Village opening. “Yesterday we danced quadrille, and today, we were excited to come out for the parade and celebrate 175 years of emancipation. We looked at bringing together our cultural clothing with elements of the past — you’ll see our members holding torches, for example, and conch shells, in commemoration.”