By Arley Gill
Vulgar! It means rude, impolite, bad mannered. Vulgarity often times is used to describe certain aspects of Caribbean culture, not least is the “whine’’.
Whine is defined by a Caribbean dance expert as the thrusting or rotating of the pelvic girdle in a rhythmic pattern. This must be distinguished from the English dictionary’s definition of “whine’’, which refers to a long cry of complaint or pain.
In the context of Caribbean culture, whine is a genuine regional dance form. It is the natural way in which Caribbean people dance to the calypso or soca rhythm. It requires no teaching or no formal learning at a school of dance. It’s as natural as our language rhythm or cadence of speech.
Unlike other genre of music that inspires the feet – such as “salsa’’, “kweyol’’ and “tango’’ – the dancing of soca music inspires the rhythmic movement of the waistline, more than any other body part.
In many African societies also, similar movements to the soca whine are well known; synonymous with the continent is the African gyration of the waist and the “tumbling’’ of the posterior part of the human anatomy to the drum and musical instruments. As an African descended majority, it is safe to say we inherited many ancestral traits.
It is bizarre that other peoples who were transplanted to the west have tried to hold on and perpetuate their motherland culture. The Jews, for example, have done that; so, too, have the Chinese and East Indians.
Africans, however, have either had their culture banned, such as their language and religion, even up to the mid-20th century prohibition of the Shouter Baptists; or we ourselves have tried to distance ourselves from or to ridicule our own African-based culture.
Generally, the culture of Western Europe idealizes “thin’’ – thin women, thin waists and so on. On the other hand, the culture of black people – in Africa and in the Caribbean – is not shy about celebrating “big’’ – big hips, big bottom, and the curvature of our women.
That celebration reaches fever pitch when we see it “roll’’. That is the simple truth. It brings unbridled joy to the men folk in our society.
It is also cultural, the way we dance with partners as well. We hold on to each other and dance in harmony with our partner. Again, it is the same body parts that are summoned into action. In essence, we “whine’’ up on each other (what Americans call twerking) from either the front or back of our partner. This way of dancing is natural to us. It is neither rude nor sinful.
At a recent music awards’ ceremony, some Americans expressed outrage at Miley Cyrus “twerking’’ with Robin Thicke on stage. In response, CNN broadcaster Piers Morgan wondered aloud what the fuss was about. He said he had travelled to the Caribbean and seen that kind of dancing from Jamaica in the north to Guyana in the south.
Now, the other motion that goes with whining is “djuking’’; this may be referred to as the forward thrusting of the pelvic area. Men and women alike can be seen “djuking’’ rhythmically, while whining to the same calypso or soca music.
Frankly speaking, this whining and “djuking’’ action is not too distant from the motion that we associate with the act of sex. To me, this is where the grey area emerges, leading to claims that whining is vulgar. Let’s be clear, all societies have moral thresholds and sex is a very sensitive issue. For us sex is a private act by consenting adults.
Moreover, it is best if these adults are married; we do tolerate adults out of wedlock, though. It is forbidden under law for persons under the age of 16; morally, they should finish school and be above the age of 18.
So, suggestive sexual acts in public are frowned upon. But it so happens, as I have discussed, whining and “djuking’’ are cultural forms for us. Therefore, there can be a thin line that divides what we think is vulgar or what is not.
However, whining or “djuking’’ in and of themselves are not – and cannot be seen – as vulgar. Nonetheless, it can be said that with some add-ons and embellishments, one’s performance can be classified as vulgar based on our moral threshold.
Another relevant issue is the age at which children, especially girls, should get involved in public dance whining. Ironically, in formal dance shows here in the Caribbean, if a young girl were to whine on stage she would be applauded. However, if she were to repeat that same performance on the streets, it’s likely to be frown on.
My view of this is that if you agree that whining is a genuine dance form, then I don’t think that the age should be different from someone aspiring to be a ballerina. Our culture is not inferior to that of other societies; but, subconsciously, we do treat the cultures of others as superior to ours.
The paintings we cherish are the works of European artistes like Rembrandt and Michel Angelo. In music, many look up to and refer to Tchaikovsky’s “classics’’, as if our own musicians like Sparrow, Kitchener, Bob Marley, Arrow, Wizard and Ajamu have not created classics.
Clearly, the European artistes are good. But, it should not blind us to the excellence we have here in Grenada and the Caribbean in the arts – created and established by our authors, musicians and dancers.
The largest exposition of regional ingenuity and creativity is the hosting of CARIFESTA that was recently held in Suriname, and the celebration of the various annual carnivals – from Trinidad and Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean, to Haiti and Brazil, to Miami, London, New York and Toronto.
The carnival package combines different cultural elements, particularly song and dance.
Whining is an established dance form in the Caribbean. We should respect it as such.
Arley Gill, a lawyer, is a former Grenada culture minister. This article was first published in the Grenada newspaper, Caribupdate Weekly.