Chipping down the road of understanding.

Last summer in London I taught a few wining classes, and one of the moves I started off with was the chip.
Wining, as I told my students, is much more than a movement of the waist. Like most other rituals associated with Carnival, dancing in Carnival is not given any critical thought, and especially because of the continued dismissal of its African origins, we overlook its subtleties and ultimately it’s real purpose. Part of my real disgust with soca is the ‘instructional’ nature of many of the songs, which create a template for movement, but also to a certain extent, disempower women from really freeing up and expressing themselves and their bodies outside of the approval of the male gaze.
Anyway, now that I’m back in Trinidad and getting ready for Carnival, I’m reading and researching and arming myself with information.
I found this excellent quote in Under the Mas – Resistance and Rebellion in the Trinidad Masquerade written by dancer, Choreographer and scholar Prof Jeff Henry.

The basic calypso dance, ‘the chip’ is executed with a relaxed forward shuffle of the feet, knees slightly bent, with the balls of the feet and the heels continuously flat on the ground, as the weight is shifted from one leg to the other.
The body sways loosely from side to side in response to the change of weight in relationship to the shift of the body. This fundamental rhythmic forward propelling movement comes out of the Shouter Baptist rhythms as part of the physical expression and from the circular movement of the Orisha.
The movement is most noteworthy during the opening ceremony of a Shango meeting which usually begins with a salutation to Eshu. In the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist ceremonies, the movement back and forth accompanied by vocal sounds referred to as ‘doption’ also recalls the ‘chip’. The shuffle of feet flat on the ground has always been the signature of the Calypso dance and is still unconsciously done by masqueraders when they are moving from one place to another or are slowing down to contain their energy.

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Flag Woman of Class

When yuh see she get that fever
Is plenty trouble
Whether youse a saint or sinner
You bound to wiggle
Aiya yai ayai ayai
—Flag Woman, Lord Kitchenertwflag2

I am standing in the middle of the street. Where the roads make a perfect cross. Marking the spot where I clear a path for Phase II Pan Groove to enter the Savannah. This is a piece of madness that is exceptional even for me. I am neither dancer nor sexy in that heavy T bumper kind of way nor do I possess any recognizable aura of Matador woman.

It is 15 or so minutes since I first held the flag. It is a red satiny one with zig zag letters, announcing the name of the band that I grew up listening to, committing whole arrangements to memory. I never wanted to learn to play but instead to drown myself inside music that is the sweetest pain. It has all happened rather fast. I go from hoping to get a bligh on the track, purely for documentary purposes to clearing a path for the band through the thousands of pan lovers gathered in this sacred space. It’s too late to turn back now.

To flake out or let the doubts that have been shouting at me all day lead me back home, chastened by the prospect of all those people judging my non-existent flag-waving skills. I am standing at the crossroads of fear and insanity trying to make a rational decision about the way to go. The regular flag man has a wild look in his eyes. He is concerned about my path-clearing skills. He shows me once. And then again. I am confused. He shows me again and I think I might have it. We start up the track. I hold the flag high over my head, my long arms coming to good use for once and all those months of warrior salutations finally paying off.

The flag is red, green and gold now. The flap of it in the light breeze is all that I can hear, as if my mind has managed to turn down the volume in the Savannah. I am clearing a path smooth and wide. People read the flag. They decide to stay a little longer. Linger on the track to hear the Panorama champs. Sister-friends hover close by. Offering water and words of encouragement. They still can’t believe that I am going to do this. In a way neither do I.

The truth is, this whole flag woman thing started off as a Facebook status update joke that spiralled wildly out of my own control. My inner jammette is at rest as I walk up the track. All day on Sunday I have been paralysed by various fears. Fears that I have neither the skill nor the gumption to do it. Fears that I will confuse liberation with objectification and end up with some convoluted radical feminist crisis of conscience that will spoil the whole damn thing. Really though, I am most scared that I will fall off the stage, drop the flag or the flag will get wrapped around itself and I won’t be able to get it flying again.

We press on, up the track, the moon full and daring me to keep going. The stage comes into view. NCC officials urge us forward. Next thing you know, I am walking onto the stage. The lights from the hills wink reassuringly. I was born to do this. The mother is somewhere in the audience. I smile as I remember how she likes to relate to me that I walked long after I was supposed to. But when I did, the first place I got lost was in the Savannah at Panorama time. The Boy gives me five and I am glad for the last bit of energy we exchange through our palms.

They are begging supporters to come off the stage. My inner jammette is preening, chipping, rolling up and out of me and I am not sure whether it is still me, me self there or some other woman. Someone surer of herself and her body. Someone more beautiful and poised and graceful. I use my flag-woman influence to push the crowds back. They smile and agree. The lights come up and Boogsie rings out a magic drum timing on the racks. I am pointer woman and path clearer. I am water and light and pure flag woman energy. Sure and strong and so happy to be in this magic moment.