Carnival in St. Thomas “Island Living,” “The Rehearsal,” and “The Children’s Parade”
We continue where we left off a few weeks ago from the end of Episode 2 of the Bare Feet™ Web Series ’J'ouvert’ whose out-of-control party that kicked off the entire weekend of Carnival celebrations left us extinguished and famished. There was no downtime in the midst of the J’ouvert party, only more stimulation through extra-loud bass pumping through the racks of speakers piled on the mack trucks honking by. The rum kept flowing and the Johnny Cakes kept our tummies just full enough to keep our feet moving to the never-ending Soca music echoing from bands in every direction. Why would we want to stop anyway? Nothing was holding us back…except maybe the burning sun that grew strong and stronger as the afternoon grew closer and closer. Eventually, we did stop our feet from moving to the island rhythmic heartbeat, and our legs began to buckle – five hours of partying in the streets after a day of traveling with little to no sleep started to catch up with us, so next on the Carnival itinerary was a visit to the Carnival Village. A re-organized parking lot that is transformed into a bazaar of local food stands, carnival rides, and stages, the Carnival Village is the stop after every event happening throughout the week. Conch soup, Johnny Cakes, some cold beverages and of course the unoccupied benches were our saving grace from the mayhem that is known as J’ouvert.
With a little R&R slipped into our day, I was ready for the true reason for coming down to St. Thomas. My rehearsal with The Caribbean Ritual Dancers was due, and I needed to get down to business. My goal for this trip was to meet with one of the top dance troupes in St. Thomas, learn their Carnival Parade routine, and then actually ‘come up deh road’ with them and perform for the crowds of people and the multiple judging panels along the way. First, I had my costume fitting with Delroy Ross, costume designer and maker for the troupe’s elaborate pieces. Ross said that as soon as this year’s Carnival ends, he will begin working on ideas for next year’s parade – the work is tedious and every bead and stitch is done by hand. Such a beautiful art form that a lot of other troupes have lost; with imports of China’s inexpensive knock-off versions, costumes have become ‘cheap’ and have lost the island flavor to them. But unlike most of the troupes who have wavered and relinquished the old tradition, the Caribbean Ritual Dancers not only see it as important to have great quality costumes, but they also see it as another great way to keep the tradition alive of real Carnival festivities.
I cannot thank Krystal Setorie and Nicole Smith enough for teaching me not only the routine for the Adult Parade performance, but also for giving me the basics of wukkin’ and winin’. These dances are done all day, every day, by every age of every sex; they are sung about in troubadour-like fashion in the Soca songs, driving the crowds to gyrate their pelvises in a way that looks so easy, but a warning, if it’s not in your blood, it is next to impossible. And I actually got it at some points, and then I would lose it. I realized, everyone was turning their hips to the left, and I’m a righty – you wouldn’t think it would not make that much of a difference, but when you have to wuk up at triple speed, it is easier to lose the flow of the movement. Once my rehearsal with Setorie was done, I felt more at ease with knowing that I had the choreography down; now it was up to me to rehearse in the days to come leading up to the adult parade. I wouldn’t be seeing the ladies again until the actual performance, and in no way was I going to let them down, so run-thrus in my hotel room and mental notes before I slept kept me alert with choreography order. I was getting nervous.
The Children’s Parade, a long-running tradition where the kids of St. Thomas get to shine and perform in an orderly and well-organized event, showcased an age range from three years old to 18 to then older adults. Multiple ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ that had been crowned for the 60th Carnival were ceremoniously displayed on the back seats of convertibles; moko jumbies, the stilt-walking dancers of mini proportion strutted up deh road; dance troupes, baton twirlers, and of course the steel drum bands all made their long-awaited appearances. The steel drum, originally invented in Trinidad, is recognizable as the soundtrack to island life. As you can see, these massive groups somehow kept in time with each other, and the kids were relentless. A place in one of the coveted spots in The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra is a huge honor and rightfully so – these kids can play!
The St. Thomas All Stars Steelband took me under their wing and unbelievably let me literally hop on to their float and join in on the fun. With open arms, they let a complete stranger on board to share the love of their music and their island’s tradition. I cannot thank the group enough for their overwhelming hospitality and the opportunity they gave me to play during such a momentous occasion!
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 Caribbean Ritual Dancers: The award-winning troupe offers dance classes and performs regularly on the island during the many festivities and celebrations throughout the year – they are even available to spice up your own party (perfect for destination wedding entertainment in St. Thomas!). For more information, click here!
3. Steel Drum lessons: The steel drum (or also known as steel pan) is one of the newest instruments of modern-day culture. Lessons in steel drum are offered by Steel X Plosion in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, taught by Freddy Harris III.
4. Steel drum music: Summer is here, and what better way to enjoy it then listen to some steel drum music while lounging in your backyard (or Central Park, for us NY-ers) – some great steel drum albums include The Best Of by Ebony Steelband and more!
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.