Patois Gives Rhythmic Interpretation
When most people think of Jamaica, reggae, ganja and suntans are a few
of the things that might come to mind. However, this weekend’s “Essence”
dance class performance, Patois: Yardie Nommo, will provide some alternative
views to these perceptions about the Caribbean and shed some light on
the intricate history and culture of the region.
“The performance will be something you’ve never seen before. It’s authentic
and it’s totally going against people’s view of Jamaica as a vacation
spot, and presenting it as a place with a deep, unique culture,” student
choreographer and junior Camille Newman, who is also a native of Jamaica,
(photo by Claire-Helene Mershon)
The title of this weekend’s performance,
Patois: Yardie Nommo, in itself signifies a reclaiming of Jamaican culture.
Patois is the name given to the hybrid language spoken in Jamaica, while
Yardie refers to Jamaican-Americans and Nommo signifies “the spirit
of the word.” Newman titled the piece after the language spoken in Jamaica
which is often referred to as “broken English.”
“I don’t feel it’s broken English,” Newman said. “It’s a dialect within
itself, and through the language you have people’s experiences. It’s
signifying a lot of what Jamaica is about, a unique mixture, but still
a defined, unique indigenous culture.”
“Essence” is a course offered every Spring through the African-American
studies department that is designed to promote and develop creativity
in dance performance through the black experience. The class is headed
by Lecturer in African-American Studies Adenike Sharpley and directed
by a different student choreographer each year.
Newman, who was trained in dance forms in Jamaica, was a member of the
Chuck Davis Dance Group, which has performed to rave reviews in New
York City and beyond for two years. Newman, whose dance experience also
includes three years of participation in Dance Diaspora, was chosen
by Sharpley to choreograph the class this semester. She choreographed
all of the Jamaican-centered pieces for the performance that include
everything from traditional dances such as the Kumina, which stems from
one of the religions of Jamaica, to contemporary dancehall reggae. Sharpley
choreographed one additional piece, Yanvalou, a dance from Haiti.
Newman said she appreciates Sharpley’s work in the dance department.
“She [Sharpley] really gives us a space to do things that are not Eurocentric.”
“‘Essence’ usually houses choreographers that do non-Eurocentric forms
of dance, since the dance department is not representative. ‘Essence’
once performed dances from the Motown years and the dance department
would not have done Caribbean dance,” Newman said.
“Essence” has 27 participants this semester who range in experience
level. The class is held from 9 – 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with
two hours of extra practice after Spring Break. “It’s been a real, true
challenge, but we have a very dedicated group,” Newman said.
“I took the class because secretly I like to dance and I really liked
the opportunity to perform,” senior Kimberly Clarke said. “And plus,
the genre of Caribbean dance interested me.”
Newman expressed great enthusiasm about her semester-long project finally
hitting the stage this weekend. “I’m excited first because I’m Jamaican
and because I’m presenting through dance the experiences of me and my
family, and the three million people in Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora,
and I think I’m doing it in a good way,” Newman said.
Patois: Yardie Nommo performs May 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in Warner Main Space.
Tickets are $3 pre-sale and $4 at the door and are available through