Despite the emancipation of slaves in 1838 and Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1962, a cultural dichotomy persisted in the country. The society was divided into what was perceived as “high-culture” of the white group, and “low-culture”, which was predominantly black. This division created a struggle over the identity of Jamaica, which would display either the “superior” European or American culture or the denigrated African culture.
Dancehall is the most current manifestation of what is deemed low culture and is historically negated. Dancehall created a resistance to the existing state structure of British superiority.
Stanley- Niaah (2004) describes dancehall as the choreographing of an identity that comments on aspects of Western domination.
Dancehall is one of the most popular form of music in Jamaica. Dancehall music is a genre of urban folk music which came out of Jamaica in the mid to late 1970s and is generally considered to be the direct predecessor of rap. Dancehall in its simplest form is when a deejay toasts (raps) over riddim- which is Jamaican patois for rhythm –the riddim was usually the instrumental version of song. Dancehall is also known as bashment, a term which can refer to either the music itself or a large party where dancehall music is played. Dancehall got its name from the larger halls or street spaces that deejays used to set up their sound systems. Instead of just playing the pre-recorded songs, many of the deejays began toasting over it and many of the djs became household names in the process.
There was much debate among purists as to whether it should be considered an extension of reggae. Dub poet Mutabaruka said, "if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". It was far removed from reggae's gentle roots and culture.
In the early 1990s, dancehall was popularized by songs sung by Shabba Ranks, Patra and Chaka Demus, Pliers and Yellowman. By the early 2000s, dancehall-pop artists, such as Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Popcaan, Vybz Kartel, Konshens, Mr. Vegas, Mavado and Spice were figures of success.
Dancehall-pop saw a new wave of popularity in Western markets in the mid-late 2010s, with immense commercial success being achieved by a number of dancehall-pop singles, including Rihanna's "Work" (2016) and Drake's "One Dance" and "Controlla" (2016).
An integral part of the Dancehall culture is the dancing itself. The dancehall, as a dance, majorly lays emphasis on dancing, grooving and having fun rather than the technical aspects of movement or memorizing the routine or a choreography. Dancehall is a form of dancing in which attitude and energy are of utmost importance. Dancehall dance moves are created spontaneously during street parties and spread throughout the Jamaican community for them to be recognized as steps in the dancehall move book.
There are over 800 dancehall moves - “Shampoo”, “Feel the Riddim”, “Move to the Beat”, “Like Glue”, “Bogle”, “Wine & Dip”, “Whine Up”, “Boosie Bounce”, “Shovel It”, “To Di World”, “Dutty Wine”, “Bad Man Forward Bad Man Pull Up”, “Side to Side”, “Around the Wolrd”, “Keeping it Jiggy”, “Pon Di River”, “Willie Bounce”, “Wacky Dip”, “Screetchie” and “Daggering” to name a few.
Every move can be performed in a different way by different dancers. Personalization is one of the key features of dancehall moves since one move may be performed by its creator in a specific way but performed by another dancer in a completely different way with a different nuance, body language and attitude.
In Jamaica’s dancehall, a unique connection between dance and music can be seen. There are songs which recite one dance move over and over again and on the other hand, there are songs which talk about different dance moves. Jamaicans use Patois, their own slang, which sometimes makes it difficult for non-Jamaicans to understand parts of their music.
The history of Jamaica with its convergence of people from varied cultural backgrounds created a solid foundation for the emergence of dancehall; dance and music. This same history has also made it possible for dancehall to extend its boundaries beyond the small island state of Jamaica to the rest of the world.