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Monday, April 24, 2006

Passa Passa: dance form or vulgarity?

Culture Box

The Famous Pose female dancers

Passa Passa is a recent phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. But what is it really? Is it a dance move? Is it a way of dress? Is it an attitude? Or is it just a term to describe racy, or in Guyanese parlance 'lawlessness'?

Depending on where one is standing, it could be any or all of the above. The Scene therefore set out to find what Passa Passa really is all about.

We ran into a large group of youngsters in downtown Georgetown preparing for one of the ubiquitous, Passa Passa dance-off competitions, which came off two weeks ago. This seemed like the ideal place to find answers.

The first person we ran into was a young man who goes by the name of 'Ding Dong' the name of a popular Jamaican dancer. His real name is Earlson Murray and he belongs to the Famous Pose dance club, which has among its members, males, females and pre-adolescent children.

According to Murray, Passa Passa is a dance started by a Jamaican who goes by the name of Mr Wacki (pronounced wah-key). "It's all about keeping the body fit 24 hours a day. Everybody loves it has taken over Guyana right now and the whole world," he said.

"It's a dance for you to show your skill," said Dexter Fraser one of the instructors at the dance school.

Murray agreed it involved many moves that you could create as you went along. Among the moves they named was 'Air Force One' (a tribute to a sneaker of the same name). Do not visualize anything in the air because this dance basically involves moving your feet and dipping with a swing of the arms. Then there is 'Flowers a Bloom', 'Wacki Dip', 'Taxi', 'Summer Bounce' and 'Oh my Swing'. Squads of six or four dancers perform the Passa Passa, which is basically a series of improvised clever feet and upper body movements.

They are also specific dancehall songs that are considered Passa Passa tracks such as "Willie Bounce" by Elephant Man, "Temperature" by Sean Paul and the "Villain Rhythm" featuring artists such as Beenieman.

In Guyana, the buzz around the dance craze among young people, they say, is not about vulgar behaviour. Fraser explains: "Passa Passa is not about fighting, arguing or cameras under skirts. It's about uniformity and who could dance the best. It's [seen the opening of] lots of dance schools. It keeps the youths off the streets."

A young lady observing the practice session said she thought it was about the dancing and the clothing: the cut up jeans and airbrushed designs.

Clothes are indeed a very important part of being a Passa Passa dancer. Overseas, shirts or airbrushed jackets are worn with cuff links. The last two shirt buttons are never closed. The must-have 'bling', sunglasses (Gucci and Prada are the hot eyewear brands at the moment), side chain and cell phones, trousers and finally the latest in sneakers complete the outfit. Local Passa Passa dancers also pay great attention to the garb they don before taking the stage.

A mother waiting to pick up her daughter at the dance school in Georgetown said: "It is something like the break dance craze back in the 80s, I see nothing wrong with it."

On the other hand there may be a link to Africa and slavery as the dancers generally answer the call or command of the artistes or DJ who would say 'do x or y' and the dancers would respond in time and rhythm making the whole experience more uniform and entertaining. Mark Blackett, promoter of the Club Altitude competition along with Michael Jones, told The Scene he believed Passa Passa really originated in Africa as a war dance.


Passa Passa as an event evolved out of Jamaica where it started not as a promotion, but as an opportunity for the sound system credited with its rise to "tune up".

According to the Jamaica Star Online when Passa Passa came to life on Ash Wednesday in 2003, no one imagined the event would attract such a following becoming a model for street dances at home and abroad.

Because the downtown, Kingston, business district shuts down at midday on Wednesdays, sound system Swatch International used the opportunity to 'put out the system and tune it up'. People started showing up at the 'tunings' to drink, play dominoes and enjoy the music.

Maestro, a selector with Swatch International, coined the name Passa Passa.

Passa Passa means a blending of, or simply, 'mix up' and is used in reference to the blending of cultures, nationalities and classes that occur at the now renowned dancehall event, Maestro explained.

The high-energy street dance usually gets into gear around 3 am, and continues long after the sun would have risen. Skimpily clad ladies are another highlight of the event and their risqué, sometimes x-rated moves have become synonymous with the name.

Local aspects

The craze hit Guyana some two years ago with the importation of a Jamaican play of the same name. Passa Passa, the play, involves a mother who tries to prevent her daughter from repeating the same mistakes she made as a young woman, which ignites the fireworks of teenage rebellion.

Since then, a number of artistes and dancers from Jamaica have come to Guyana for shows that feature Passa Passa dancing, including the very popular Voicemail, a trio credited with taking the dance scene by storm, bringing a renewed interest in dancing and fashion.

The competition Famous Pose was preparing for attracted a bunch of people to Club Altitude at Wellington Street and South Road, mainly to witness the featured "dance off" between Famous Pose and Crystallite Dancers.

Somewhere around midnight the event began with four male dancers from Famous Pose taking the stage. The youths had the crowd eating out of their hands as they moved in harmony to the latest dancehall music. Later the Famous Pose girls took over, entertaining the crowd.

The Crystallite males were unique throwing in some floor moves that incorporated slides, rolls and other innovations that were not necessarily Passa Passa, but were entertaining nevertheless. Their female counterparts even to the uninitiated eyes of this reporter were somewhat lame though the ladies themselves were pretty.

In the end Famous Pose won. But they demanded a second round, which the Crystallite dancers were not prepared for and therefore walked out. Prize money donated by the entering teams was refunded and the parties left sulking.

Regional perspective

But Passa Passa has also created a huge furore in the Caribbean, particularly in Grenada, where Education Minister Claris Charles elevated Passa Passa from a fringe pastime to a region wide controversy when she recently called for a ban after learning people were doing it not only during the traditionally wanton Carnival season but in Lent.

Over the Easter weekend it was noted in the press that the Barbadian authorities also decided to clamp down on Passa Passa promotions with the acting Barbadian Police Commissioner Bertie Hinds saying the events involve excessive negative behaviour.

Noting that the new trend had its origins in neighbouring Jamaica and was used to bring warring factions together, Hinds said the fetes were bringing out the worst form of activity imagined.

While the words Passa Passa seem to have the worst connotation elsewhere in the region, so far in Guyana it is just a dance and it is fast becoming very much a part of local culture.

Link Posted by jebratt :: Monday, April 24, 2006 :: 0 comments

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