Time In Jamaica

Travel Tips and Excursions

Quadrille Dance

This is quite an interesting dance that takes on a more classically style and is still done at cultural performances in Jamaica.

History of Quadrille Dance

Jamaican QuadrilleQuadrille dance, which exists in parts of Jamaica and among some enthusiasts in Kingston and St. Andrew, is an adaption of French dance which had its debut in the ballrooms of fashionable people of England in the early nineteenth century. Alamamack’s, the famous and exclusive London assembly room, presided over eight ladies of society in the reign of George IV, and was one of the scenes of its introduction in England in 1814. In Jamaica, the gentry on the estates, officials from England, and those who became leaders of social life in the island encouraged quadrille dancing at their balls. This dance, one of the many types of formation or set dances used, continued in Jamaica ballrooms until the early twentieth century. The servants situated near the Great House, who could watch it being danced, soon came to learn it. Barbecues, the paved areas used for drying coffee and other produce, became the locations for ring games and quadrille for the peasantry.


On certain occasions, like Christmas time, they even danced inside the Great House. Jamaican Quadrille today, however, consists of steps and style of dance which have been remembered and handed down in particular localities where Quadrille was danced up to about fifty years ago. It also exists in places which have a group of village musicians and some older people who still like quadrille dancing.


In the classic version of the Quadrille, Partners were placed in a square or in two lines; this was known as a long-ways set. Their figures from one to four consists of one dancer at a time, a couple, or two couples at a time, executing a dance maneuver which was repeated by the others in turn, followed by a short chorus of whirling, in which all couples joined. These figures also became the basis of square dance, developed later in Canada and the United States, the difference being the styles of steps and music became a great deal more vigorous. In other to make these prescribed paths of movement in the original Quadrille, certain steps taken from the lively English, French and Scottish folk and peasant dances were used. These were refined for the ballroom, so that jigs, chasses, balances, and promenades acquired the smooth gliding quality which characterized the Ballroom Quadrille taught by European and local dancing masters.

Setting and Description of Quadrille Dance:

Jamaica Quadrille today is danced by two or four couples. It consists of four figures to which a fifth is added as a finale—the sixth, in Jamaica, is a “brawta” (extra). In the fifth figure all the dancers move at the same time. This cotillion figure was derived from an older type of French set dance which involves partner changes for an entire group of dancers at one time. The fifth figure in Jamaica Quadrille, therefore, came to represent not only the Jamaican versions of polkas, schottisches and mazurkas, but also the dances most in fashion at the particular period. In this way, typical Jamaican mento dancing, to the tune of a mento song, became a legitimate fifth figure of Jamaican Quadrille. This mento figure now involves partner change, wheeling, and eventually recovering the original partner.

The emergence in modern times of quadrille as a public spectacle, performed outside of the home or village for the entertainment of those who did not know this tradition at all in Jamaica, began formally with the village festivals of the Jamaica Welfare. Subsequently, the Jamaica Festival Organization of the the Ministry of Development and Welfare (Ministry of Culture) included Quadrille in the folk and traditional section of the Festival Dance Competition. These competitions in Quadrille were at first extended occasions, somewhat like chess tournaments. The length of time was not important to the performers, so why should it be to the audience? However, the gradual acceptance of a time limit made the competition more manageable and enjoyable.

Jamaica Quadrille Dance Competition and Variations

From the evidence provided by these competitions, there seem to be four main areas in the island where Quadrille reveals a different tradition. The first area is Kingston and St. Catherine, which as a few itinerant Quadrille dance masters who attempt a version of the Ballroom type of Quadrille with all its smoothness and finesse. The rural areas of St. Andrew and Portland on the other hand, support a lively type of Quadrille with intricate footwork. Many groups in this area dance the “Camp-style”. This involves two couples facing and maintaining a dance relationship throughout, although four couples are in the set, which stands in two lines instead of a square. Because of this, there is no need to wait until the other couples take their turn. This makes for double the amount the amount of dancing for each musical figure that is played. This style is often frowned upon by purists of the classic Jamaica Ballroom Quadrille, but it makes for more joyous dancing in the rustic manner and for exciting Jamaican movements. This Camp-style seems to have derived from the older form of Quadrille as it was danced in France in the early days. There were Groups in George Town, Mavis Bank, Guava Ridge, St. Peter’s, Bloxburgh in St. Andrew, Mt. Peasant and Fruitful vale in Portland have given a very good account of themselves in both Camp and Jamaica Ballroom style of Quadrille, a combination of classic ballroom style Quadrille with robust Jamaica style movement. Among the dancers in Bloxburgh, high in the Port Royal Mountains was the fifth figure was a Dennis Polka, or a “Vaspiana” a version of the old Varsovienne.

Clarendon, Manchester, and Trelawny seem to have had a different tradition in Quadrille movement. The men, even more than elsewhere, insist on virtuosity, moving away from their their partners with reels and jigs, their bodies making low bobs, feints and dodges, and beautiful wheels. In addition, they specialize in the mento figure. The mento , when performed by Quadrille dancers in Mocho in Clarendon, or Thompson Town in Trelawny, is a joy to watch. They display the correct mento movement, with the feet and hips moving on the second part of the first beat (not on the very first beat that is heard), along with the restrained but almost continuous hip rotation that characterizes genuine mento dance.

One of the most important competing and performing groups was the Cascade Quadrille Group, from Hanover on the western part of the island. These Jamaicans very clearly demonstrate the influence of Scottish dancing in the area. Their Quadrille dance includes a remnant of the figure of Scottish folk dancing known as the poussette. Here, two sets of partners, each with hands joined, change places with each other, and with other couples in turn, one couple moving first backwards down the line with a balancing step and the other moving forward up the line. Other figures are circular join-handed-figures, reminiscent of Scottish reels

Click Here for Jamaican Quadrille Videos

Musical Band Playing For The Dance:

The band or musical ensemble is a most important element in Quadrille dancing. It consists entirely of part-time musicians, generally older men who, over the years, have acquired considerable instrumental skill playing in bands after a hard day’s work in the field. A band for Quadrille may consist of three, four or five instruments. The lead instrument may be a violin, (generally homemade and handcrafted) as in Cascade, Hanover and parts of Manchester and St. Catherine. It may be a fife, as in Mt. Pleasant and parts of Trelawny; or it may be a piccolo as it was in Bloxburgh. The lead instrument may be an orthodox saxophone, as in Gordon Town, St. Andrew; or a real trombone, as in Trinity Ville, St. Thomas; or it may be a homemade clarinet or trumpet. Other accompanying instruments may include a banjo, guitar, drum, sometimes a marimba or rhumba box, a double bass, and percussion instruments, such as triangles, pieces of iron, empty sardine cans, forks or graters. The bamboo bass (a piece of thick bamboo about 4 ½ feet long, to which is attached a string which is pulled against a hole as the musician blows through it is seen mainly in upper St. Thomas. It makes a sound somewhat like the one produced by the plucking of the string of a bass fiddle.

The musical time for the figures of the Quadrille dance is generally as follows:


    The first - 4/4

    Second - 4/4

    Third - 6/8

    Fourth - 2/4

    Fifth figure - a variety


One of the most exciting of the figure in Jamaica Quadrille is the fourth (2/4 time) as danced by the St. Andrew and Portland groups. This involves the figure, ladies change and wheel. It is even more exciting in the Camp-style done by a really rustic group.

Musicians, who to a great extent control the continuance of any type of folk dance, have considerably influenced the style of Quadrille in the island. Dances which originally correct were correct, even measured European airs have become impregnated with the dynamic characteristics of Jamaican music. Jamaican bodies, supple and responsive to rhythmic versions of such tunes as “The Blue Bells of Scotland”, “God save the Queen”, or “Rule Britannia” played for an exciting fourth figure. Evidence of the continued existence of this dance in Jamaica was shown in the Independence celebration of 1962. One hundred and fifteen villages indicated that Quadrille dancing would take place as part of their festivities.

Quadrille Dancing Time

There was a time when no group in the country demonstrating Quadrille on request would get started until after 3 p.m., when the “sun had turned!” Maybe they would be ready by 5 p.m., or possible a 7 p.m. If they were not swinging by nine o’clock, they were not going to come again. This was the pattern, however early the hour for which the appointment had been made. This was changed since the festivals, evening filming, had provided recognition, prizes, certificates and even financial remuneration.

Dressing for Quadrille Dance

The dress for Quadrille may be rustic, with head ties for women and bright shirts for the men if Camp style is being danced. For the ballroom style, women wear elegant gowns with gloves and the men wear waistcoats and dark suits. The Quadrille in Jamaica is an obvious mixture of European traditional dance steps and a Jamaican quality in music and movement.