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Thread: Early 19th Century Dancing in Hispaniola

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    Default Early 19th Century Dancing in Hispaniola

    I stumbled across this article today, how times have changed in 200 years! Computer translated

    Whites, blacks and mulattos dance

    Jose Del Castillo Pichardo

    IN THE EARLY nineteenth century, the Englishman William Walton , who resided and acted as an agent of England in the country, following the British military expedition led by General Carmichael, who in 1809 helped end the Age of France in Santo Domingo - had the gist of collecting his informative information and impressions in the present Present of the Spanish Colonies, Including a Particular Report of Hispaniola . Fundamental text published in London in 1810, it was reprinted in two volumes in Spanish in 1976 by the Dominican Society of Bibliophiles, as a contribution to the better knowledge of our past.

    Under the premise that the forms of amusement of a town give a pattern to know its idiosyncrasy, Walton stopped to observe the different dances that were practiced then in Hispaniola. From his scrutinizing eye emerges a period profile, describing the choreography of some of the most characteristic dances and their correspondence with different ethnic groups and social categories concurrent on the island.

    Thus, he found in the bolero "the most elegant, scientific and typical of all dances". For him, this dance "gives the well-formed woman the opportunity to deploy her graceful person, as well as her dexterity and agility of movement. The dancers beat the castanets with their fingers, to the beat of their feet, through various changes and interesting positions, accompanied by the guitar and the voice. Finally stating that "the good is the great merit of this dance, the peculiar position of the two dancers, facing each other, arms outstretched, a foot raised in the air."

    Another of the dances described by Walton is the fandango. Executed by a couple and accompanied by voice and guitar, he notes that he was more moving than the bolero. "The castanets mark a living beat in each cadence. The dancers turn, they approach each other with tender vehemence. Suddenly they withdraw and come again, while each limb performs movements that could well be described as uniform and harmonious convulsion of the whole body, although the agile and rhythmic heel of the feet on the ground is of greater importance than the grace of continuous steps ".

    Walton also refers to the chandé, pointing to it as the same fandango but "carried to its extreme". With this name, a Colombian folkloric dance with presence in the carnivals, described as "fusion of indigenous rhythms with black African music" and executed "with a drum, a joyful drum, a drum called, maracas , millo flutes or bagpipes, accompanied by the palms of the dancers ".

    According to the English account, other dances were practiced like the waltz and "the Spanish country dance that is graceful to the highest degree and more complicated, but not as monotonous as ours, although its rhythm is slower."

    But what impressed most in the eyes of the English observer was to witness the dances of the Negroes of Haiti and the mulattoes of Hispaniola. For him, this experience was equivalent to "being transported to a circle of lascivious bacchantes". Such a sensation would have other European travelers who preceded Walton, stopping to contemplate the dances of the negroes, also adopted by the "Creole Spaniards of America," as Father Labat points out in 1722 in his monumental work Travels to the Isles of the America. With a certain stupor, Labat - who traveled for eleven years on the islands of the Caribbean, living longer in the French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe - describes the dancing of the calendar executed by the negroes in those localities.

    "Those who dance are arranged in two rows, one in front of the other, the men on one side and the women on the other. Those who are tired of dancing and the spectators make a circle around the dancers and the drums. The most skillful sings a song, which composes instantly, on the subject that judges on purpose, whose saying, sung by all the spectators, is accompanied by great clapping.

    As for the dancers, they keep their arms more or less like those who dance playing castanets. They jump, they spin, they come two or three feet from each other, they step back to the beat until the sound of the drum warns them to come together, beating their thighs against each other, that is, men against women. When they see them, they seem to be beaten with their bellies, even if they are the thighs that bear those blows. At the moment they are withdrawn by pirouetting, to restart the same movement with completely lascivious gestures as many times as the signal drum, which often does several times in a row. From time to time they intertwine their arms and give two or three turns always striking their thighs and kissing. "

    For Labat this dance was "opposed to modesty," "indecent postures," although "it is nevertheless of the taste of the Creole Spaniards of America and so habitual among them that it constitutes the greater part of their amusements and even of their devotions. They dance it in their churches and in their processions, and the religious women hardly stop dancing on Christmas night on a theater raised in their choir, in front of their parlor, which is open so that the people take part in the joy that those good souls manifest by the birth of the Savior. " Labat points out that in these circumstances men are not allowed, stating that he wanted to believe that they danced "with a purely pure intention." To end with a certain sneer: "But how many spectators are there to be judged as charitably as I am?"

    In the same way that Father Labat -only almost a century later- was to pronounce the Englishman Walton, in describing the dances he found among the Negroes of Santo Domingo.

    "The lower black Spanish people accompany their vulgar dances with screams and with music produced by sticks and high-sounding woods, or by a grooved humidor, which they tear with agility using a fine bone. The baujo, a kind of maracas made by filling a grove of pebbles and teeth fixed to the jaw of a horse, torn with a swift movement and accompanied by a drum. The steps are strange and obscene. "

    As a curious note of gallantry, Walton relates: "The greatest compliment that the lover makes his favorite for having been given the privilege of dancing with him during the party, is to take off his hat and put it on for the rest of the evening ; she returns it, almost always together with a lit cigar, which she has bundled herself. "

    The woman dressed in her best dresses to attend the dances, "usually made of muslin embroidered in colors, bordered, or with tassels at the ends." On the suit he wore a red taffeta or red velvet embroidered gold shawl, wearing silk slippers, thin stockings or sandals. "As they wear short skirts, they exhibit the well-formed foot and leg, to the lustful delight of the fellow admirer."

    "They tend to braid their hair with strings of pearls or flowers, which contrasts with their shiny black hair, which they collect with ornate combs or gold. Although they are not beautiful, women possess a flirtatious voluptuousness that at first glance, can not fail to impress the European, accustomed as it is in the societies of their own country, to more discreet and restrained manners. "

    In the next installments, we will continue to document other milestones of Dominican dance vocation, a fabulous vein of our culture that has resulted in international diffusion and accreditation of dances such as merengue and bachata, which constitute true signs of identity.

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  2. Likes Tom F., dulce, Salsafan, pelaut, 2dlight and 1 others liked this post
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    Two excellent postings AE.  Thanks.  This computer translation is almost lyrical. 


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