History Quadrille is the traditional dance of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Quadrille originated in France in the 1700’s, and was brought to the Virgin Islands during the height of its popularity in England, and was adapted as plantation entertainment.
Quadrilles were originally performed by two couples, then two more couples were added. The dance was performed by four couples in a square formation, and is a precursor to traditional square dancing, which finds its origins in the early 1900’s.
The dance has continued to evolve over the past few centuries, and it takes on a unique and dynamic presentation and personality when performed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Clothing The dancers are all wearing traditional quadrille costumes made of a madras material. The men wear madras shirts, and the women wear madras skirts, traditionally with white petticoats.
The women also wear traditional head-ties also made of madras. The tying of a head-tie is an art in the Virgin Islands, because the way the head-tie is tied, is of great significance.
A head-tie tied with one point signifies that the lady is single and says “I am Free;” she is a virgin who has never been touched.
A head-tie tied with two points means that the lady is engaged and says “I am engaged, but you can still try.”
Three points indicates that the lady is married and says “I’m already taken; no need to try.” She is not to be touched.
And four points means that the lady is divorced or widowed, and says “I am available;” she is not engaged, ready and willing, and will take anything!
Music The music that the dancers perform to is the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands, quelbe. Quelbe music is commonly performed by scratch bands.
The music of scratch bands dates back to the days of slavery. The slaves on the islands used objects that they found to fashion instruments. If they found an old bucket, they turned it over to make a drum. If they had some extra fishing line, they would string it to make a banjo or a guitar.
Quelbe music is still being performed these days with modern instruments, but certain makeshift instruments are still used to give it the authentic quelbe sound.