ST. CROIX, US VIRGIN ISLANDS
“Quadrille dancing is not for the faint of heart.” You gotta be as strong as Colonel Petersen!
CGR: What is your Caribbean heritage/where are you and generations back of your family from?
Marion: Like much of the black people of the Caribbean, my family’s heritage includes enslaved Africans. We can trace my father’s family back to the 1800’s on the island of St. Croix, Danish West Indies. Unfortunately, my mother’s father is not listed on her birth certificate. But according to family sources, her father was Caucasian and her mother of African heritage.
CGR:Thinking about your Caribbean heritage, what are you most proud of?
Marion: I am most proud of the role my slave ancestors played in the 1848 abolishment of slavery in the Danish West Indies and the labor riot of 1878, during which one of St. Croix’s two towns were burned to the ground.
CGR: Tell us why you got into Quadrille dancing?
Marion: I have always wanted to learn the quadrille and had attended a few quadrille dances whenever I could. However, it was not until August 2014 that I considered joining a group of quadrille dancers. I was retired by then and was looking for a fun activity in which I could participate.
CGR: What do you enjoy most about it?
Marion: I enjoy the unique sounds of the quadrille music, quelbe, the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Traditionally, the music is performed by what we refer to as scratch bands, which dates back to the days of slavery, when musical instruments were fashioned from objects such as buckets and fishing line. Now modern instruments are used with some makeshift instruments to give the music a unique sound. When I hear quelbe music as played by Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, I just want to nod my head, stomp my feet, and clap my hands.
CGR: For people who may not know what quadrille is, please give us a little history/description on it.
Marion: Quadrille is the traditional dance art form of the U.S. Virgin Islands, originating in France in the 1700’s. The dance was brought to the Virgin Islands during the height of its popularity in England, and was adapted as plantation entertainment. Quadrilles were originally performed by two couples. Then two more couples were added, and the dance was performed by four couples in a square formation. Quadrille is a precursor to traditional square dancing, which finds its origins in the early 1900’s. Quadrille, as danced in the Virgin Islands, is unique in the number of couples that participate (four or more couples) in the performance, the requirement for a caller who calls out instructions to the dancers, the traditional costumes, and the type of music.
CGR: Which group do you dance with? Tell us a bit about them.
Marion: I dance with We Deh Yah Cultural Dancers (WDY). What I like about the group is that dancing is voluntary and the group is organized. Members come from all walks of life with interest in one thing, dancing the quadrille. We have teachers, lawyers, National Guard soldiers, office administrators, clerks, and retirees, to name a few. As a voluntary organization, we have to recruit dancers continuously to keep membership high. Information about the group is available at wdyculturaldancers.com, Facebook, and YouTube.
CGR: Tell us about the attire?
Marion: Our traditional quadrille costumes are made of madras fabric. Traditionally, men wear madras shirts, and women wear madras skirt and head-tie, with a white, ruffled, peasant top, a petticoat and pumps. Traditionally, the madras head-tie is of great significance in the quadrille dance, for it gives prospective male suitors in attendance the marital status of a female. The head-ties are tied with one of four points. One point signifies the lady is single, two points mean the lady is engaged, three points says the lady is married, and four points, the lady is divorced or widowed.
CGR: Where can we see you and WDY perform?
Marion: Currently, WDY performs at the St. Croix Divi Carina Bay Beach Resort and Casino every Thursday and every other Friday at the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort and Spa. We also perform at various community events throughout the dance year.
CGR: If someone is interested in becoming a Quadrille dancer, what should they keep in mind/what advice do you have?
Marion: Quadrille dancing is not for the faint of heart. The dance is intensive, requiring each dancer’s presence on the floor for the entire series of dances, or a replacement dancer must be available. A series of dances can last 45 minutes or more at a high pace.
Q & A Interview by Patreece