Dancing with the Gombeys in the Bermuda Day Parade
I was fortunate enough to be in Bermuda for their National Day celebration this past May, which in addition to a rum swizzle tasting tour of the island, meant a chance to dance in the Bermuda Day parade among the Gombeys. The Gombey is the iconic symbol of Bermuda, reflecting a folk tradition blending African, Caribbean and British roots.
Historically, the Gombeys were banned by the slave masters, and the tradition grew as a dance of protest. I'm a sucker for a good marching band drum line, but dancing to the beat with these guys was a far more memorable experience than any Big Ten football game could offer!
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Harbour Nights in Bermuda
Harbour Nights is a family-friendly event held on Wednesday nights in May through September. The event takes place in Hamilton, on Front Street, and features local artisans, food vendors, and live music and entertainment such as traditional Gombey dance troupes and the Bermuda Regiment Band. A mixture of Bermuda’s African, Native American, and British Colonial heritage, Gombey dance is performed by dancers wearing colorful and elaborately decorated costumes. This energetic crew draws a crowd wherever they go.
Grab a bite and stroll through the streets as the peaceful water in Hamilton Harbour slowly becomes a reflective pool of twinkling stars and flickering boat lights. Since Front Street is closed to traffic, it is a great time to get a vehicle-free photo by the always popular Birdcage traffic regulation station. Many of the stores in town are open later than normal, and sometimes Gosling’s offers free rum samples.
Colorful costumes, pulsating rhythms, and energetic movement are the hallmarks of Gombey dance troupes. This folkloric form of dance is a reflection of Bermuda’s African, British Colonial, and Native American past.
Quick to draw a crowd wherever they go, Gombey dancers employ the use of kettle drums, fifes, whistles, and other musical instruments to create rhythmic beats and fast-paced patterns. Dancers wear kaleidoscopic costumes trimmed in tassels, bells, and other small items. Peacock feather headdresses, capes, and vivid masks complete the elaborate ensembles. The captain of the troupe wears a tall headdress and carries a whip, symbolically meant to keep dancers and onlookers in line. Gombey dancers perform at many of Bermuda's festivals and weekly events like Harbour Nights and Destination Dockyard. Gombey dance was originally performed on Boxing Day and New Year's Day. It's particularly popular during the Christmas season and at special events.