Full disclosure: I have never been to a Soca party in my life.
As the daughter of a Trini-born woman, though I’ve been to Trinidad twice and stayed a month both times, I have only been to Carnival there once. The first time I went, I was a spoiled Yankee brat. The second time I went, I was a fully depressed mess.
I was born in Brooklyn and for many years my mom took my brother and I to the Labor Day Parade on Eastern Parkway and the Kiddie Carnival behind the Brooklyn Museum. I’ve eaten coconut jelly, coconut meat, coconut water, sugar cane, Coucou, Roti, Doubles, Sorrel (OMIGOD I LOVE SORREL) Mauby, Ginger Beer that my mom used to make every Summer. I’ve grown up with Calypso, Reggae and Soca being played in the house daily. But I have never been to a Soca party.
To be fair, I’ve never really been that much of a party person. There was a short stint for about a year or so in my late 20s when I did a lot of dancing at Pop Rocks, The Pyramid and Lime Light but most of these were very Gay situations and so I felt relatively confident that I did not have to fight off grabby hands or other unwanted advances on the dance floor which was one of my main concerns. In my American mind, the only reason to go out to a party is to meet people and since I’m married and haven’t been single in over ten years, I just do all my wild dancing at home or on the odd occasion with a friend or two at clubs in the Village.
Soulsistah4real has been trying to get me to go to Carnival literally for years and I’ve always declined. My extroversion is very selective and jumping around in public half naked in bold colors is something I’ve only imagined enjoying as a spectator. But this weekend while taping some footage to promote Soul Sistah Series next event, “Soca & Scotch,” I learned some new things about Soca dance, music, parties and culture that have really exposed my own Westernized ignorance. It enlightened me about the myriad ways in which my perceptions about sex and sexuality have been co-opted by the White Male gaze.
Throughout it’s history, White America has always consistently and perversely stripped the meaning of so many African and Afro Caribbean cultural rituals in order to emphasize, overexpose and market the elements of it that are sorely lacking in their own. This results in a prevalent misrepresentation of any bodily gyrations involved in our cultural ritual dances as “primitive,” “loose” and solely of a sexual nature, meant only to draw sexual advances and too often, sexual assault, which was one of the staples of European colonization. The mind that perceives this is that of the colonizer, the conqueror. It is the mind of patriarchy and it works most effectively in the minds of women.
For me, dance is a way to be overcome by feeling, to have a rhythm take control of my body and let my mind go. It’s one the easiest ways I know to decompress and connect to joy, playfulness and sensuality. The times when I’ve done this at a party with others have been unforgettable and definitively bonding times which can never truly be described in words. Dancing is a language all it’s own. The kind of energy shared when dancing in unison with others always makes me believe in the power of numbers. It’s possibly also why I like Karaoke so much. I can sing with people I don’t even really hang out or know very well and still be happy because we’re all singing together. People are different when they let loose or rather they are more a part of themselves that they don’t always get to show when they are trying to be instead of just being. In this way, music is like magic. The drumbeat is a spiritual conductor. This has always been inherent to Indigenous people of the Diaspora both in ancient times and now. Rhythm is life and there is more going on in Soca dance than just the sexually titillating, and objectifying appropriation used to describe it by White media.
As I learned over the weekend, Soca music is primarily about dancing, making merry, drinking and finding a partner to do it with. It’s about feeling the vibes! It is a celebration of life, of spirit, of culture and yes, the essence of that will often manifest itself in a sexual manner because sexuality is the reason we are all here right? Sex and life are inextricably linked. I will go even further than that and say that sexuality and the spirit are also inextricably linked. It only becomes fragmented in it’s meaning when those who are sexually repressed or conditioned to believe that their bodies and feelings are dirty, sinful and forbidden enter the story. That’s why we have to reclaim our true stories and maintain our own culture so that we can continue to dance ourselves free.