25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Today during a regular week there must be at least ten dances held at various locations. Tourists dance daily. And for a New Year’s Eve night there are up to four bands playing live music all over San Pedro. Dances are as common as going to the store or for a stroll.
Not so 25 years ago. They were really special occasions and when announced, they were attended by the entire village- boys and girls, teenagers, adults and even the elderly. A few of the big events were New Year’s Eve, Easter, Christmas and the annual general meeting of the Caribeña Fishing Cooperative.
The New Year’s Eve dance was in two parts- “Baile de los Casados” and “Baile de los Solteros.” (Dance for married couples, and dance for single persons) Daddy’s club or Marino’s Club usually hosted the Baile de los Solteros and Tio Pil or Felipe Paz of Lily’s Hotel used to host El Baile de los Casados. The dances started at 8 p.m. on the dot with accordion and acoustic guitars and a lot of percussions. Singing was by the power of the throat with no microphones available. By 10 p.m. the dances were in full swing but at midnight they were stopped for all the villagers to go to church for the midnight mass or “misa de gallo”. After Father Raszkowski was finished with mass everyone went home to put on some new clothing as a symbol of the arrival of the new year. By four in the morning the solteros (single) dance would usually be over and some of them joined the baile de los casados. Only then would they be welcome and they would be teased that they were not “machos” like the married men. By sunrise hot chocolate and biscuits would be served to the ladies so that they could hold on till nine in the morning of January 1. (Note that the Lions still try to keep this tradition alive) If the musicians were not so drunk and still with energy, they would put another dance the following night of January 1st.
|With all the lights on, windows open and spectators looking on, this couple gets close for a slow dance.
Another big dance was held for the annual general meeting of our fishing cooperative. This was a biggie with tons of food and beer for the entire village. People jollied all night and fishermen whom you never suspected could dance took to the floor, after all everything was free. Fishermen love to argue about fishing techniques and prowess, so after too many drinks usually a sudden and unexpected fight broke the rhythm of the dance and everyone scattered home with their men. These were big dances usually held at central park or at the cooperative plant or processing room.
Easter and Christmas were also big fiestas for San Pedro. Popular bands like Los Beliceños, Los Cañeros, Los Atlanticos, Mauro y sus Profetas, Glenn Bood, or Benito from Chetumal would provide the music. Central Park was a popular dance venue as well as Marino’s Rooftop.
People danced barefooted. The girls used footwear, but threw them off after a while when the blisters popped up. To make the dance floor smooth and slippery, the men would sprinkle body powder on the floor or candle wax. Mothers escorted their daughter to every dance. The dance halls had to have large windows where moms could lean and watch and doze and snore and wake up and doze again. If mom could not go for whatever reason, then the daughter had to miss the party. All girls sat inside the dance hall and as the music started, the guys would come and select the girl of their choice. The girl could approve with a casual smile or she could say, “Sorry, I am tired.” This would be a lie for if her favorite boy friend came to ask her to dance, she would immediately get up. That was tough disappointment for many boys.
Today things have changed drastically. We danced with a lot of lights- the more the merrier. Today the darker the better. We tried to slide on the floor. Today we try to jump to reach the rooftop. In the past we danced four or five times a year. Now we dance every week, well at least some of us. We used to prefer live bands. Today the youth prefer the disco and the DJ’s. Mothers used to go along. Today if mom offers to go, the girl would rather stay home. But who cares? Everybody still has fun, so let the music continue. As long as you are dancing, it is better than you falling on the floor.
Now have you wondered what were the dance styles and kind of dances that were popular 25 years ago?
The most popular kind of dance in the 50’s all the way up to the 70’s was the “Bolero”. These were romantic Spanish ballads. Couples loved these songs as they were danced cheek to cheek (de cachetitas) and you could cuddle the young lady in your arms or hold her hands with the left arm and placed your right hand around her waist or back. During the “bolero” you could whisper in the girl’s ears and during these precious moments many boys declared their love to their dream girl. Can’t believe boys and girls walk out of the dance hall when a “bolero” is played today. What a waste!
A popular dance was “El Merengue”. This was faster than salsa and danced individually, but you could move and swing the young lady from hand to hand. Then of course, there was the waltz, which had to be played at every dance at least 3 or 4 selections. “Cumbias” was very popular in the 1960’s and it was a very lively dance sort of like salsa. Also popular was the “Mambo” made famous by the renowned group Perez Prado. Then there were the “Corridas”, which were sort of like the polka dance.
From the Caribbean region came the reggae as well, which by the way, has survived up until today. Can’t recall dances of the past without remembering the popular “Cha, Cha, Cha”. This had a lot of swing and movement. Have you heard of the “Ska”, which also comes from Jamaica? That was popular even before the reggae. Then came out Chubby Checker who internationalized the “twist”, which arrived in San Pedro somewhere in the 70’s. The “Danzon”, which originated in South America, had been in San Pedro from the 1940’s all the way into the 1960’s and was intermixed with the bolero. The “danzon” had a lot more fast movements than the bolero.
All in all, folks 25 years ago had the choice to hug right up during a dance or dance aerobics style and sweat a little during the dance. Most of the dances used the record player and occasionally a live band.