The parade is scheduled for 11am, a time not based in reality. From my experience, it starts an hour late, at the very least. And unfolds at a leisurely pace with a comfortable gait, long pauses, and ample space between entries. Festivities last several hours. One reason for the late start (as extends to many island events) is that participants expect as much and prefer not to wait around themselves. So, they add an hour to their arrival time, thus exacerbating the tardiness.
We get there around 12:30 and haven’t missed much.
To my great delight, we arrive in time to see a family representing the Taino Indians, original VI inhabitants. I’ve scarcely seen such naturally beautiful people. Every last damn one of them. I can’t shut up about it. So striking, they are! Mocha skin, high cheekbones, bodies perfectly proportioned between tone and curve. Children stunning enough for television. The family, accompanied by a drum corp, look to be having fun, proudly showing off their roots with a clear familial bond. I can easily make out the matriarch and patriarch. Three young men look like brothers—chiseled, long hair, wearing loin cloths and little else. The sides of their perfect bubble butts tease around the cloths’ edges, strongly suggesting the lack of skivvies, indeed. The gorgeous young women also wear sexy native attire, but more modestly so, opting for a version with a bit more coverage.
The mother is resplendent in a bikini top and loin skirt, showing off an enviable, curvy frame. She appears to love the public audience most of all, and I daresay, she may even dance with the most carnal energy, yet still exuding a dignified, finely-aged sexuality. The move I watch her perform does not appear to be based on Taino culture, but seems rather identical to the trademark Caribbean wuk-up: legs spread hip-width apart, knees bent into a squat, hands loosely on thighs, and an ass shake maneuver executed by several rapid pelvic thrusts, or as an alternative, quick continuous pelvic circles.
As far as I can tell, this is the basis for modern Caribbean dance. As a white girl, my first instinct when hearing a beat is to sway my hips from side to side. I have no clue if this is the proper way to get one’s groove on anywhere in the world, but it is not how it’s done in the islands. Instead, plant your feet, bend your knees, and move your pelvis in the manner described above. Be careful to use your hips, not your waist. This is the most difficult part for me. I’ve improved, but having no kinetic intelligence, still require several drinks before letting my wuk-up loose in public.
And so this is the basic dance move performed by Carnival troupe members through the main thoroughfares of Cruz Bay— their sumptuous, revealing costumes and majestic feathered head dresses adding the most sparkle and bombast to the celebration. And this is what truly gives meaning to the idea of Carnival. Namely, that social mores are turned upside down once a year, giving license to public behavior that would otherwise be scorned. As you might imagine, it’s a helluva good time.
As regards public attire, West Indians can be conservative to the point of what most statesiders might consider old-fashioned. They still wear pantyhose here. And slips. Stepping out in a sundress minus bra and/or panties, as so many white stateside women do here, is not an option. Never will you see a local person wearing a bikini top and jean shorts anywhere other than the beach or pool. Never will you see a West Indian man shirtless in public like so many frat boys at football games.
Such exhibitionist behavior can actually get you a citation in the Virgin Islands. A fact I reveled in telling the flushed, near-naked tourists who lumbered into the air-conditioned coffee shop where I used to work in downtown Charlotte Amalie. The contrast of their exposed, sun-burnt flab in a place where the clientele were fully clothed, if not in business apparel, and where the employees wore a uniform of matching polo’s, socks, and close-toed shoes, was jarring to the point of vexation. It made me completely sympathetic to a law I had initially considered rigid and outdated for a tropical tourist destination.
But I am pleased to report that during the Carnival parade, not only are the locals half-or-less dressed, and not only do they shake their sexy rumps down the parade route, but the dancing quite often devolves into complete sexual simulation by the time the parade is nearing the end and everyone has had plenty to drink.
Some of the women can honestly move with the assured, lusty grace of a stripper. They don’t have a stripper’s frame, per say, but I watch one (eyes wide, mouth agape) bend in half at the waist, stick her generous booty skyward and shake it compellingly, while a fellow male troupe member stands behind her gyrating with skill. This in broad daylight, round the town square no less, while their fellow islanders cheer them on. Even if I had the moves, I doubt I could conjure the confidence!
And confidence, whether merited or not, is in vast supply among parade participants. One float is actually equipped with a stripper’s pole near the front. And if the fit, dark, beautiful girl adorning it doesn’t know how to work that thing, she can definitely fake it. Two other women share the float with her, one of whom proves that Carnival is not to be enjoyed solely by the youth.
In the middle vamps a petite white woman, who from my vantage point looks not one day under sixty. She wears a sequined bikini top and electric blue hot pants, gleefully strutting her stuff in full party mode on the moving stage. I applaud her senescent spunk, and any sardonic comments generated by the mean girl in my head could be due to the fact that, while old enough to be a grandmother, her stomach is flatter than mine. However, I can’t help noticing that the pretty West Indian girl positioned at the rear of the float seems distracted by the aged go-go dancer and unable to perform with anywhere close to the same degree of exuberance.
Clearly, she needs more rum.
To Be Continued…
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