It's All About Dancing: The Unstoppable Rise of Dancehall | Palladium Magazine
Published by Palladium Magazine, July 2017
Dancehall has ruled the dance floors in Jamaica for over four decades. Here, we take a look at the roots of its spirited, lively sound and the inimitable dance moves that have spawned because of it.
If you’re looking for an introduction to the diehard world of dancehall, find a sofa, sit yourselves down and watch It’s All About Dancing; the 2006 documentary that delves into the nitty gritty of the famed Jamaican musical genre. In just over an hour, you’re taken on a ride through all of dancehall’s dimensions by the stars of the scene like Mr Vegas, Bay-C and Beenie Man, in amid dance tutorials demonstrating how to do excellenty-named moves like the ‘Weddy Weddy’, the ‘Jiggy Dip’ and the ‘Air Force One’ - integral manoeuvres to learn if you’re ever to fit in on a dancehall dancefloor. The most well-known of all these is arguably the ‘Dutty Wine’, a move which involves rotating your neck, wrists and posterior simultaneously, while still attempting to look cool as a coconut. For the uninitiated, this should only be attempted by the brave and especially rhythmic, with extra points being given if you manage to master it after one attempt. Good luck with that.
Such is the popularity of dancehall today that it’s not uncommon to see a combination of all the aforementioned moves on any dancefloor across the globe. That success can be attributed in part to the likes of worldwide superstars like Rihanna and Sean Paul, whose tracks like ‘Work’ and ‘Like Glue’ respectively, have allowed the genre to cross over into the mainstream aural sphere. But dancehall has a long and meaningful past that’s rooted in Jamaica’s musical history, and it’s this that’s cemented its spot as one of the biggest and most influential musical movements on the planet.
Dating back to the late 1970s, dancehall initially originated as an offshoot of reggae. Its name came from namesake dance halls where local, live music was played; often frequented by residents from inner areas of Kingston like Trench Town, Rose Town and Denham Town, who were unable to attend uptown gigs. Before its explosion in the ‘70s, reggae was by far the more popular of the two genres, but thanks to a changing political climate and a desire to move away from reggae’s more internationally-focused sound, dancehall eventually emerged from the shadows, with the themes of dancing, sexuality, humour and violence becoming synonymous in between the lines of its sound.
Over the coming decades, dancehall flourished, evolving and unfolding to reveal talent that gained worldwide recognition. Yellowman, one of the genre’s biggest stars, signed to an American record label in the ‘80s and enjoyed a similar level of popularity on his home island to Bob Marley, for a time. In the ‘90s, Chaka Demus & Pliers were thrust into the limelight thanks to their success on US soil, and these days, the likes of Busy Signal, Vybz Kartel and Drake steadfastly carry the dancehall flag, taking it to new depths with slick digital production and a more culturally inclusive message. Dig deep and get practicing that ‘Wacky Dip’, there’s still plenty of opportunity to perfect your dancehall dynamite yet.