Past Features

July 11, 2005 (Vol. 1, No. 10)

Old Dances Live Again in New Course This Fall

Dominican folk dancers dancing the quadrille.
Dominican folk dancers dancing the quadrille.
Professor Dominique Cyrille (Black Studies) has uncovered a new meaning behind an old dance.

The quadrille–with men and women partnered on the dance floor in a formal, square position–reached its heyday in the nineteenth century in the elegant grand ballroom of the French court. At the same time, slaves in French colonies were using the dance as a form of protest.

"In many French colonies, slaves expressed their humanity by taking over this dance and making it their own," says Professor Cyrille. This fall, she will offer a course called "Black Dance and Body Politics in the Circum-Caribbean" (LEH/BLS 301) that will include the quadrille, contredance and capoera and cover topics like dance and gender, religious dance, and the racial politics of dance.

Professor Cyrille has extensively studied the traditional dance and music of her homeland, Martinique, and was a Rockefeller Fellow at the Center for Black Music Research for 2003-2004. She carried out fieldwork in St. Lucia, Dominica and Haiti to study the politics of contredance and quadrille performance in these former French colonies. She believes the new course is important so that "students can see the great contributions that black people have made to the world and also to raise people's awareness about the way your body is read by other people."

Professor Cyrille's articles have been published in the Encyclopedia of Popular Musics of the World, Black Music Research Journal and Dance Research Journal. She is co-author of liner notes for two CDs of the Caribbean Voyage CD series and has contributed a chapter in the book Caribbean Dance entitled "Saki Ta Nou" ("This Belongs to Us").