Traditional Jamaican Dances

African derived, European derived and Creole, which is, a mixture of both types, are the three main categories that Jamaican traditional danced call under.

The African derived dances are mainly religious, being integral parts of ceremonies of worship.  These dances take the ritualists into the realm of the spiritual and heighten their readiness for spiritual possession e.g. Kumina, Myal and Pocomania.

There are other African derived dances that were social in intent and which are still performed in Jamaica.  These include Etu, Quadrille and Maypole which though originally of religious significance, is now largely social.  The dances which accompany work songs and ring games also fall into this category are examples of social dances that are of European origin and have kept their popularity throughout the years.


Kumina is the most African of the cults to be found in Jamaica, with negligible European or Christian influence.  Linguistic evidence cites the Kongo as a specific ethnic source for the ‘language’ and possibly the music of Kumina.  There are varying theories as to whether it was brought with late African arrivals after Emancipation, or whether it was rooted in Jamaica from the 18th century, and deepened by the later African influence.

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Maypole which is now richly Jamaican is from an European background which was originally celebrated on May first at the May Day fertility celebration in England. Danceg groups may consist of twelve (12) to sixteen (16) dancers and are sometimes all female or with mixed couples. The plaiting of the pole with coloured ribbons has basic traditional patterns, starting with the grand chain basket weave wrapping the ribbons around the pole from the top. The plaiting then continues away from the pole ending with the "cobweb" plait before the full unplaiting takes place. Mento music is usually the musical accompaniment, but it is now not unusual to have groups perform this dance to popular reggae tunes.

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John Canoe or Jonkonnu

The John Canoe or Jonkonnu has a very long tradition as a folk festival, incorporating both African and European forms. The ‘Jonkonnu’ Festival is secular in nature and its performance at Christmas time is merely historical.  It was conceived as a  festive opportunity afforded the slave class by the planter class, as Christmas was one of the few periods when the slaves were relieved of their duties.

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The quadrille began in the 17th century, within military parades, in which four horsemen and their mounts performed special square-shaped formations or figures. The dance became very popular, which led people to perform a quadrille without horses. In the 18th Century the quadrille evolved more and more in an intricate ball room dance.

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Bruckins is a member of the creolised group of traditional dances. As with Jonkonnu, the dance reveals a unique mixture of African and European influences. The Bruckins party is a stately, dipping-gliding dance typified by the "thrust and recovery" action of the hip and leg. It was formerly done to commemorate the Emancipation of slaves on August 1, 1838.

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Dinki mini

Dinki mini is mainly found in St. Andrew, St. Mary and St. Ann. It is a member of the Wake Complex of traditional dances. Dinki mini is performed on the second to the eighth night of the traditional ninth night observances. These sessions are primarily lively and celebratory in nature and are geared to cheering the bereaved. Dancing in couples and sing lively "mento" type of music occur for the first few nights.

By the sixth to the seventh night, Ring games, Anansi stories, riddles dominates the proceedings. The ninth night is climaxed by rituals designed to send off the "mature" spirit properly. It is related to the Gere practices best known on the western end of the island.