- Caribbean and Atlantic Diaspora Dance: Igniting Citizenship by Yvonne Daniel
Caribbean and Atlantic Diaspora Dance: Igniting Citizenship, Daniel’s third book on Afro-Caribbean dance, is a testament to her extensive knowledge, which has been accumulated over a lifetime devoted to ethnographic research on a variety of Afro-diasporic dance forms. This latest book is methodologically very different from Daniel’s previous works, which are in-depth analyses based primarily on ethnographic research. Here, Daniel offers the reader a historical overview of the development of Afro-Caribbean dances, informed by ethnographic research, from the sixteenth century to the present. Caribbean and Atlantic Diaspora Dance is conceptualized as an introductory book aimed at teachers and beginning practitioners of Caribbean dance, which Daniel hopes will provide a “solid foundation on which African Diaspora dance genres can be examined as representative culture of related peoples” (xv). Daniel focuses precisely on the interrelatedness of selected Afro-Caribbean dance forms, foregrounding their shared Africanity and their ability to build local, national, and transnational Afro-diasporic communities. Throughout the book, Daniel stresses the courage and resilience of Afro-Caribbean dancers who have endeavored to keep Afro-Caribbean dances alive. She also notes the beauty and sensuality of Afro-Caribbean dance forms, as well as their ability to foster “good physical health and psychological balance” (17).
The book is divided into nine chapters, which take the reader on a whirlwind tour of dances throughout the Caribbean, including areas Daniel refers to as “circum-Caribbean” or “related territories.” (Brazil, as well as Uruguay and the United States are some of the countries included as related territories.) Her inclusion of places that are not usually considered part of the Caribbean draws attention to the commonalities among the experiences of Afro-descendants throughout the Americas. What I found puzzling about this extended view of the Caribbean, however, is the absence of Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama—countries that share Afro-diasporic dances and festivals very similar to those discussed by Daniel.
In her first chapter, “Diaspora Dance: Courageous Performers,” Daniel pays homage to artists who are “recognized promoters of African dance heritage” (8). She expresses her admiration for choreographers and dance company directors from Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Curaçao, and the Virgin Islands. As promoters of Brazilian dance, Daniel acknowledges several U.S.-based choreographers, who are “uniquely responsible for promoting Brazilian forms; they use Afro-Brazilian and modern concert dance techniques on the concert, community, and educational stages to make Brazilian dance spectacle” (9). This statement exemplifies one of the book’s grave omissions: a lack of critical analysis of the processes that transform Afro-diasporic dances into “spectacle”—racialized displays of difference and national identity, which are often tied to the promotion of tourism. The “courageous performers” Daniel lists seem to be, in the majority, professional transnational choreographers and directors involved in staging “folkloric” dances. In the case of Brazil, the selected representatives of Afro-Brazilian culture are in the majority U.S.-based choreographers and capoeira mestres [End Page 152] whose careers are intimately tied to “making Brazilian dance spectacle” on international stages, a choice that excludes other “courageous performers” living in Brazil whose work has remained peripheral to the international folkloric circuit.
Promoting “national dances” abroad (Afro-diasporic or otherwise) is not, in and of itself, a “courageous” or unproblematic endeavor, nor does it automatically ensure the “preservation” of these dances—an assumption that Daniel carries throughout the book. On the contrary, the process of staging “vernacular” dance is often accompanied by substantial choreographic intervention—curtailed improvisation, amplification, abbreviation, and often the addition of dance vocabulary from “high art” forms such as ballet—which in turn influences the performance of these dances offstage. While staged folkloric performances may be valuable for providing employment, respectability, and visibility to circum-Caribbean performers, they result in transformation rather than preservation.
Daniel’s analysis is couched in a model of...