Kingston’s Dancehall: A Story of Space and Celebration by Sonjah Stanley Niaah

‘Limbo,’ Butterfly and the ‘Jerry Springer’, dances throughout Jamaica’s Dancehall history, have mostly been created in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). The stories they tell about history, the birth and evolution of New World culture, cross-fertilization, and strategies of self and identity, help to construct a narrative of the transformation of Kingston’s urban postcolonial to celebratory space. With select citizenry, spatiality and history, the city of Kingston is a site of collective memory in respect of dancehall. In order to contextualize Kingston’s Dancehall, I briefly describe the rise of Dancehall over its fifty year history, especially between 1986 and 2004. The thesis engages Dancehall as a continuum from New World slave ship and slave plot to urban ghetto cultures, and as life-giving, creative and transformatory performance space. Using ‘Limbo’ as a metaphor, I delineate and urban performance geography which is developed on an exposition of the performer’s arena and practice, that is, their spaces of being and their acts.

With entry into the Dancehall space initiated through the arena of the ‘dance’- that is, the space, event, acts and actors- and using interviews, participant observation, and case study as the main tools of investigation, the research maps key elements of the Dancehall life-world.

These include spatiality, participants’ lifestyles, celebrated themes, popular dance venues and dance moves. Some of the questions asked include – What do Dancehall events tell us about what is celebrated in Jamaican culture? What is the value of Dancehall to inner-city Kingston?

To what extent do notions such as Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalesque’ as applied to popular culture find applicability in the Dancehall space? Is the lived Afro-Caribbean popular reducible to binary categories such as ‘culture’ and or ‘slackness’? Finally, the thesis positions Dancehall and liminal space, a space of celebration that holds significance for self, city and national identity.

Key terms: Sonjah Stanley Niaah; Kingston; Dancehall Culture; Cultural Studies; Limbo Imagination; Liminal Space; Spaces of Performance; Performance Geography

Leave a Reply