In the early 2000s, as dancehall grew in popularity, so did its dance moves.
With the movement led by artists Elephant Man and Voicemail and the legendary dancer, Gerald “Bogle” Levy, dancehall soon became known as a fast-paced, creative and fun-loving genre of music that could be enjoyed by the entire family.
When “Bogle” died in 2005, the energy in dancehall also died. But it was soon revived by dancehall artist, Ding Dong and his team of dancers, “the Ravers Crew”.
The widescale impact of the dance culture is explored in “Out There Without Fear”, a dancehall documentary directed by 21-year-old filmmaker Joelle Powe.
The documentary combines perspectives from Jamaican cultural scholars and popular street dancers.
In the film, one of Jamaica’s popular dancers, Dwayne Samuels, known as “Kool Kid”, explained how he got inspired to start dancing.
“Dancing actually save my life. Not just me, but a lot of our youths that grow up in the inner-city communities. When I went to Half-Way-Tree and see Colo Colo, I said “this is cool”, he said.
As Kool Kid explains, dancing, much like music and sports, has been the saving grace for many Jamaican youths, especially those living in the inner cities. For some, dancing has given them the opportunity to improve their standard of living.
Latonya Dillion, the founder of Dance Jamaica, and Wayne “Colo Colo” Stewart, a legendary dancer, said dancing has given them the opportunity to travel. Going to countries like Senegal and Russia, the pair have often been recruited to teach dancehall dance moves to foreigners.
While this aspect of Jamaican culture is admired by tourists and countries around the world, in Jamaica, street dancers are not often given their respect. Renowned cultural scholar, Carolyn Cooper weighed in on why this may be the case.
“Jamaica is still a very classist society. Working-class people and their culture tend to be devalued by the elites in society who enjoy occasional forays into that world but are not prepared to admit that they even enjoy certain kinds of music. It’s really wanting to enjoy the music but also wanting to maintain the illusion of respectability,” Cooper explained.
She said that there are clear class distinctions in Jamaica, but there are movements across classes, particularly in spaces where people enjoy the culture.
“Out There Without Fear” also explores aspects of sexuality, violence and blackness in the dancing community in Jamaica. The full 45-minute documentary is now available on youtube.