Carnival in St. Thomas – “The Arrival” & “J’ouvert”
The incredible feeling of tropical heat first touching skin can not be compared, especially when that skin has been hibernating in the subway systems and cold, damp streets of New York City. Carnival, the true form of freedom and liberation in every sense, is what I was seeking. The literal “carnal” delights of the celebrations possessed me in different ways than you would imagine – I arrived on the island of St. Thomas to dance, the one thing that brings me the most joy and pleasure in life! And during Carnival, you must indulge on the things that make you happy, even if it is only for that one special time each year; a personal moment of celebration that is shared with the entire population of an island.
This year marked the 60th Anniversary of St. Thomas’s annual Carnival celebrations, a monumental year for the festivities. Not only was this an anniversary year for the holiday, but it also marked the 20th anniversary of the award-winning dance troupe, The Caribbean Ritual Dancers (First Place winners in their category for four consecutive years, including this year!). With so much emphasis on the dancing and the holiday itself, I was invited to come down to St. Thomas to experience Carnival first-hand; I was given the opportunity to actually perform with The Caribbean Ritual Dancers in the adult parade, the biggest event in the entire week of festivities! I only had four days to soak it all in, learn the choreography, get fitted in my costume, actually immerse myself with the people, and really experience what Carnival is like for a local. Of course, this is what Bare Feet™ lives by, those once in a lifetime cultural experiences that can only happen through the exchange of art and music and dance; these forms of expression carry a universal language and meet no barriers when it comes to sharing joy with people!
Our home for our stay in St. Thomas was the secluded property of The Ritz-Carlton® Hotel, and it was divine – every detail considered, every amenity available, every sense of indulgence and relaxation is the standard in their service. My videographer Mike Kuharic and I soon became too accustomed to the five-star treatment upon our arrival and we were already dreading our homecoming back to New York, sans private beach, evening cocktails by the pool, and soothing, fresh sea air. Why-o why-o why-o did I ever leave Ohio…
At our first evening’s dinner, the talk of “juve” kept coming up. I had no idea what this word meant or what anyone was talking about. This press tour, including WAVS 1170 am radio host Pat Montague, “Island Xclusive” TV host Jeanille Bonterre, and Caribbean Media Corporation team Andrée Shauna and Kevin Seale, was made up of Caribbean blood. Originally from Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados respectively, these insiders on the island life spoke of this party that starts at night and opens the day, “J’ouvert”. There was quite a lot of discontent once everyone realized at 11pm during our dessert course that J’ouvert in St. Thomas didn’t start at the usual 4am time. Here in St. Thomas, things moved a little slower, and the party wasn’t scheduled to start until 7am. ”Well what’s the point of J’ouvert if the sun is up already?” To each his own, and my interest was piqued at the mention of the french word. Mike and I, though sleepy with a day of travel behind us and bellies full below us, were planning our early morning rise to capture this infamous J’ouvert party. And we did!
This was only the beginning – not even 24 hours had passed, and we were already feeling like this strange and winding island was familiar and warm. In a place where so many cultures have sown their seeds, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, French, African, West-Indian, and more, the US Virgin Islands has a history and a story that has been written and re-written by so many. But what continues is the tradition of the people and the joy that Carnival brings, reminding of the hardships that this slave country endured and how the freedom of Carnival is the freedom of its people. To be continued…
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE:
1. Carnival in USVI: Carnival is celebrated at different times during the year in the US Virgin Islands – April/May in St. Thomas, December/January in St. Croix, and June/July in St. John. For more information on visiting these islands, go to VisitUSVI.com.
2. The Ritz-Carlton®: The exclusive property that lives up to its name, the Ritz-Carlton® Hotel in St. Thomas is a place of indulgence. A bit secluded and a hike from the Carnival festivities in downtown Charlotte-Amalie, St. Thomas, this is a great spot for those who just want to get away!
3. J’ouvert: J’ouvert is celebrated throughout the Caribbean during each Carnival holiday, including Crop Over in Barbados (equivalent to Carnival). If you plan on experiencing Carnival on any of the islands, be sure to go early enough not to miss the J’ouvert celebrations!
4. J’ouvert stateside: There are numerous J’ouvert celebrations stateside as well including Miami’s party in March and New York City’s in September!
5. Destra: Destra Garcia, the top Soca artist out today, has her chart-topping hits keeping the Carnival crowds dancing! Her music is available on iTunes.