Carnival in St. Thomas - 60 Years Strong
Last night, I was flipping through the channels on my TV, taking a much-anticipated break from life for about an hour. The usual happens when I’m couch surfing – there is nothing on. Thousands of channels, and the only shows I tend to land on are either Law & Order or a variation of the sort. But last night, as I kept pressing the ‘Channel Up’ button on the remote, I passed a familiar image on the screen, and I was engrossed for the 30-second teaser: it was a moko jumbie that caught my eye, the stilt dancer from St. Thomas’s Carnival. And this was MTV! Flashes of Carnival dancers, island paradise, and of course post-college recklooses running amuck on the beautiful island: MTV’s Real World St. Thomas was coming soon… I remember during our trip to St. Thomas that we did run into the MTV crew, being told that the Real World house was the secluded, red villa across the bay; but seeing the actual images of the ridiculousness on TV was jarring from the experience I had on the island myself. MTV creates an environment for mayhem to fester and explode, and with this season’s show on my new, beloved island, this was a perfect time to give you my final take on St. Thomas’s biggest celebration.
This year marked 60 years of Carnival's official celebrations in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, a monumental year for the organizers, performers, and generations of people who have celebrated for all of these years. ‘My whole family came down to visit from Baltimore,’ said one of the many locals we struck up conversation with during our trip. ‘60 is a big year, and our entire house is filled with people – it’s the Carnival way!’
2012 also marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of The Caribbean Ritual Dancers, the award-winning dance troupe and the island's dance ambassadors. I met the group back in September at the Travel + Leisure Magazine’s Global Bazaar, where the ladies, the moko jumbies, and Coco Brown (the MC for the group) kept the crowd of travel-savvy New Yorkers entertained for three days straight! They were amazing, changing into elaborate costumes throughout the event and getting the crowd inspired to throw all inhibitions out the door. Above all, the dancers were fun. When the music would come on, the ladies were smiling, having the time of their lives, and they wanted everyone else to do the same – it was infectious, and this was what inspired me to reach out to them and ask to dance with them on their home island. After seeing them liven up The Armory, I could only imagine the real thing on the streets of St. Thomas’s capital, Charlotte-Amalie.
My time in St. Thomas was unforgettable, and this grand finale episode perfectly sums up the whole experience:
But the amount of love and support from everyone involved in this trip was overwhelming – a massive thank you to Chantel Hoheb, part of the marketing team for USVI’s Tourism Board. She not only was an advocate for Bare Feet™ but she was my partner in crime as we danced in the Carnival parade together. She is a true ambassador to the island, through her job and in her life, and this rang true with a lot of the people I met on the trip. Carnival is about everyone coming together, celebrating as a people, and leveling out the playing the field in terms of position and rank. CEOs of companies would be dancing and serving up drinks to their own employees and happily putting in their share to help with the island’s expenses, just to ensure the festivities continue. It is the Carnival way.
And above all, thank you to The Caribbean Ritual Dancers! To have a group allow me to jump in three days before their annual parade, on such a monumental year, was truly special. Thank you, and happy 20th anniversary – I hope to celebrate again with you all very soon!
1. Carnival Now! The island of St. John, USVI is currently celebrating their Carnival, which ends with the Jouvert party and Parade on the 4th of July! Go now for a long weekend of Carnival festivities!
2. Christmas Carnival: The island of St. Croix, USVI celebrates their Carnival during the Christmas season thru New Year’s, a perfect time to get away from the cold and celebrate on the island!
3. The Caribbean Ritual Dancers: Celebrating 20 years, the award-winning dancers are always top of the list for local entertainment (also available for private events). If you live in St. Thomas and are interested in dancing with them, contact them directly about auditions to become a member of the troupe!
4. Carnival in Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Labor Day Carnival Parade is scheduled for September 3, 2012 and its route is along Eastern Parkway – click here for more information!
5. T+L Global Bazaar 2012: Last year marked the first, annual T+L Global Bazaar, featuring dancers, food and fun from USVI, Fiji, India, and Barbados! Mark your calendars for this year’s event, scheduled for September 28-30, 2012.