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Get into: Dancehall in Jamaica

Get into: Dancehall in Jamaica

Dancehall isn’t just a genre of music. For Jamaicans, it’s a way of life. The impact of this subculture is so massive that it forms part of everything Jamaicans do – from how we talk, dress, dance and even celebrate. 

The number-one way to see and experience dancehall in Jamaica is at events, specifically street parties we call “dance.” I can’t recall my first time going to a dance. It’s something that always was (and still is) part of the traditional Jamaican lifestyle – almost as routine as going to church on Sundays, and for many people, just as spiritual. 

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There are street parties happening in communities on a weekly basis, with Kingston being the number one dancehall hub. Don’t expect to find major artistes at these types of events. While musicians are an important part of the genre of dancehall, its culture is kept relevant by the dedicated DJs, innovative dancers and creative locals who set the tone for what’s trending in Jamaica, the Caribbean and much of global pop culture.

Things to know before you go

Dancehall street parties aren’t massive in size. Dances usually have less than 200 people in attendance, especially during the week, though parties held at clubs or other locations tend to be a bit more crowded. Street parties aren’t typically advertised on major platforms – knowing locals in the party scene or asking around is key to finding the hottest parties. There isn’t usually an entry fee for street parties; the organizers do, however, expect you to support their bar and/or buy food if it’s available.

What to wear

Expect the most creative looks at these events. This is a chance to wear the color you thought was too bold or the hairstyle you thought was too outrageous. Patrons don’t take themselves too seriously and are big on being creative but comfortable. Shorts or jeans are your best bet. And wear comfortable shoes (please, no stiletto heels), as you’ll likely be dancing all night.

Dancehall etiquette

The nature of dancehall means that there’s always lots of dancing involved. Much of the dancing is coordinated, involving a crew. There’s also lots of close dancing between two people, which can seem more intimate than it actually is.

At a party, you’ll likely see someone’s partner sharing a close dance with…

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