Month: April 2014

Why Can’t White People Dance? (To Caribbean Music)

We have all been there as Caribbean people. We are in a club and our favourite Soca/Dancehall/Zouk/Calypso/Konpa/Merengue/Timba jam comes on. As we pull our partners or absolute strangers close, or in the case with Tambú, at a respectable distance, we glimpse out of the corner of our eye some obvious non-natives moving. Are they dancing? You ask. They must be since they are not foaming at the mouth.  For those unfamiliar with this scenario watch the following clip.

Also for those unfamiliar, here are Caribbean people dancing to Soca.

And finally, for those unfamiliar to the general issue, here is Eddie Murphy from his legendary “Raw” stand up commenting on it.

Unlike Murphy and Chapelle, who also does a seriously funny take on this, I will attempt to apply some sort of meaningful analysis to answer the question why can’t white people dance to Caribbean (black music) music?

The (an) Answer

Dancing and responses to dancing show more than anything how much of a learnt behaviour listening is. For example it is obvious that in both the examples above, both sets of individuals were responding to the sounds they were hearing. However, it is apparent that

  1. They were not responding the same way to the sounds they were hearing.
  2. They were not choosing the same sounds to respond to.

From the clip, Murphy suggests that “white people” listen to the lyrics and dance off of those. I however, think that is more than that. Let us look for example at a song that is tremendously popular “Monster Winer” by Kerwin Dubois and Lil Rick. I have used this example for a reason which shall be revealed in a bit.

From the song, there are four distinct rhythms that are played together:

  1. The rhythm of the melody as sung by Kerwin.
  2. The rhythm of the horn like synth thingy.
  3. The kick drum (deepest drum sound)
  4. And the snare drum.

Conceivably, you can dance to any of these rhythms. However, Caribbean people generally perceive the bass kick as the most important one to dance to and keep time with. Why did they choose this? Well because that is what they saw their friends, family, bad influences at school doing from the time they were little ones therefore they do it as they saw it/heard it being done. In other words, they LEARNT which one of the rhythms was the most important as well as HOW to respond to that rhythm.

Of course they can!

So that is why it is said that white people can’t dance because they don’t grow up in the same cultural environment as Blacks and Caribbean people do. This does not mean however that they will never be able to dance like Caribbean people because dancing and listening are learnt behaviours and lack of melanin has nothing to do with it.  In fact, there are millions of white people, including many Caribbean whites, whose dancing will not look out of place on any dance floor in the region. To prove it, let’s go to YouTube.

Here is a video from the Siberian dance group doing “Monster Winer.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjVKQoBzVM

It is obvious that someone here spent their time studying and listening to Caribbean music and imitating how Caribbean people respond to it. Whoever they are then transmitted this method of listening to others. I therefore bet that if any similar song to “Monster Winer” plays, these dancers will be able to execute moves like Caribbean persons without their skin colour causing them to “regress” in to hapless shaking.

In summary, white people can dance (there is no one correct way), and can dance LIKE Caribbean people to Caribbean music; all it involves is them listening LIKE and moving LIKE Caribbean people. The videos on YouTube prove this as well as the Bajan Blue Box Cart band every Crop Over*. Dancing has nothing to do with melanin, but instead how people choose to live out the culture of race.* *

* Please Google them.

**There are fantastic academics who deal with this, Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy for starters.

Contributing to www.cwn5.com – Stefan Walcott

Hey everyone,

I will be contributing some articles to this fantastic web news site, http://www.cwn5.com. It is a new  great resource for Caribbean news and opinion. Here is the link to the article I have written there about Tessanne Chin and her The Voice win. Check it Out!

http://cwn5.com/index.php?plugin=News&id=333&title=tessanne-won-great-where-to-now

 

I AM ON SLIDESHARE TOO! www.slideshare.net/StefanWalcott‎

Hey guys,

I am on Slideshare as well! On this site I put up some of my class work. I also have my PhD oral defense for viewing! The material here is obviously more in depth and is really for other music and culture teachers especially here in the Caribbean. Enjoy and use well!

http://www.slideshare.net/StefanWalcott