Patois Gives Rhythmic Interpretation of Jamaica

When most people think of Jamaica, reggae, ganja and suntans are a few of the things that might come to mind. However, this weekend’s “Essence” dance class performance, Patois: Yardie Nommo, will provide some alternative views to these perceptions about the Caribbean and shed some light on the intricate history and culture of the region. 
“The performance will be something you’ve never seen before. It’s authentic and it’s totally going against people’s view of Jamaica as a vacation spot, and presenting it as a place with a deep, unique culture,” student choreographer and junior Camille Newman, who is also a native of Jamaica, said.

(photo by Claire-Helene Mershon)

The title of this weekend’s performance, Patois: Yardie Nommo, in itself signifies a reclaiming of Jamaican culture. Patois is the name given to the hybrid language spoken in Jamaica, while Yardie refers to Jamaican-Americans and Nommo signifies “the spirit of the word.” Newman titled the piece after the language spoken in Jamaica which is often referred to as “broken English.” 
“I don’t feel it’s broken English,” Newman said. “It’s a dialect within itself, and through the language you have people’s experiences. It’s signifying a lot of what Jamaica is about, a unique mixture, but still a defined, unique indigenous culture.” 
“Essence” is a course offered every Spring through the African-American studies department that is designed to promote and develop creativity in dance performance through the black experience. The class is headed by Lecturer in African-American Studies Adenike Sharpley and directed by a different student choreographer each year. 
Newman, who was trained in dance forms in Jamaica, was a member of the Chuck Davis Dance Group, which has performed to rave reviews in New York City and beyond for two years. Newman, whose dance experience also includes three years of participation in Dance Diaspora, was chosen by Sharpley to choreograph the class this semester. She choreographed all of the Jamaican-centered pieces for the performance that include everything from traditional dances such as the Kumina, which stems from one of the religions of Jamaica, to contemporary dancehall reggae. Sharpley choreographed one additional piece, Yanvalou, a dance from Haiti.

Newman said she appreciates Sharpley’s work in the dance department. “She [Sharpley] really gives us a space to do things that are not Eurocentric.” 
“‘Essence’ usually houses choreographers that do non-Eurocentric forms of dance, since the dance department is not representative. ‘Essence’ once performed dances from the Motown years and the dance department would not have done Caribbean dance,” Newman said. 
“Essence” has 27 participants this semester who range in experience level. The class is held from 9 – 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with two hours of extra practice after Spring Break. “It’s been a real, true challenge, but we have a very dedicated group,” Newman said. 
“I took the class because secretly I like to dance and I really liked the opportunity to perform,” senior Kimberly Clarke said. “And plus, the genre of Caribbean dance interested me.” 
Newman expressed great enthusiasm about her semester-long project finally hitting the stage this weekend. “I’m excited first because I’m Jamaican and because I’m presenting through dance the experiences of me and my family, and the three million people in Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora, and I think I’m doing it in a good way,” Newman said. 

Patois: Yardie Nommo performs May 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in Warner Main Space. Tickets are $3 pre-sale and $4 at the door and are available through CTS. 



Patois Gives Rhythmic Interpretation of Jamaica

They Might Be Giants and SR-71 to Jam at Spring Fling

Vitality Turns Memory into Art