From the Spanish ‘invasion’ of South America and the Caribbean in the 16th century through to modern influences of Western cultural forms (from ‘classical’ ballet to hip-hop) the area has been subject to a continual stream of ‘alien’ dance forms landing on their shores. Once adopted these are usually transformed by the local culture into a form that is quite distinct from the original version. Quite frequently this is then re-exported back to Europe, branded as an exotic novelty. Examples abound, from ‘Argentine’ tango to ‘Paraguayan’ polka or ‘Caribbean’ quadrille.
This paper will focus on the specific area of St Domingue (now Haiti) and its neighbour, Cuba, in the late 18th and early 19th century. Both were subject to extreme social change during this period, while at the same time developing their own ‘dance identities’ based on the amalgamation of European and African dance styles. Contredanses, Quadrilles and other forms emerging in Europe at that time are rapidly adopted in the Caribbean colonies, but soon become infused with local traditions to become something very distinct from the original. The process of forging new social identities by means of dance, along with the impact of migration following the revolutions in St Domingue will be a central topic of this study.
By way of a coda, the contemporary world of Caribbean culture shows many developments of a similar kind and these will be touched upon to demonstrate the universality of this theme of cultural adoption and transformation.
Bill Tuck has been an enthusiastic performer of early music for many years – particularly in the context of dance accompaniment, whether for 15th century basse dances or 19th century quadrilles. His instrumental interests range from pipe and tabor to sackbut, trumpet and flute, with a particular enthusiasm for rediscovering the visual as well as aural significance of such instruments in a theatrical context. He holds a Diploma in Music from the Open University and PhD in Mathematics from Sydney University and was formerly Senior Research Fellow in Computing at University College London. Since October 2017 he has been Chairman of the Early Dance Circle.