Monday, February 13, 2012

The Grand March - Liberia, West Africa

Edited by Azizi Powell

everybody dances with Cece Bridal party

uploaded by akiatamba on Aug 11, 2008

This is Part III of a three part series on The Grand March. Part III presents information about The Grand March in Liberia, West Africa and eight videos of that formal dance.

Part I provides an introduction to The Grand March in Europe.

Part II provides an introduction to The Cakewalk in the United States and to The Grand March in the United States & Canada.

These posts are presented for their historical and aesthetic value.

Here is an excerpt of a web post about the Grand March In Liberia:
"The Grand March in Liberia and the Diaspora
- Dr. Yolanda Covington-Ward is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

One evening while I was listening to D.J. Ryhem on, he started taking callers for a segment he called, "You know you're Liberian if".  As the phone ran off the hook, people called out foods, ways of dress, speech, and many other things. Another behavior that someone called in to add to the list was something along the lines of, "You know you're Liberian if you do the Grand March at every wedding and major event." Like many others, I have marched along arm in arm in a couple, grasped the shoulders of the person in front of me as we formed circling lines of dancers, and tried to march with poise and still rock to the beat of Lucky Shango while moving under the bridge formed by the arms of other couples participating in the dance. But just what is this Grand March? How has it come to represent Liberian identity, and does it have the same meaning here in the United States as it had back in Liberia?

Based on my historical research so far, I have found that the origins of the Grand March in Liberia rest with the freeborn and formerly enslaved African Americans who came over to Liberia in the 19th century. In Liberia, this Americo-Liberian population, which came to constitute the elite over the indigenous population, continued to reproduce certain practices from the United States such as food, architecture, and dress. Another practice that they continued was performing a number of dances at balls, inaugurations, and other events, including a dance called the Grand March. The Grand March is an elegant couple dance based on dance suites of European origin that were brought to Liberia with free Blacks from the United States (Szwed and Marks 1988:31). Dances such as the cotillion, reel, Grand March, and in particular, the quadrille (which originated in courtly dances in 18th century France, became popular in the rest of Europe, and spread to the United States) all became familiar to a wide variety of Americans, white and black, enslaved and free. It is these dances (and interestingly enough, NOT other dances that were more closely linked with slavery, such as the ring shout or buzzard lope) that seemed to have been consciously reproduced in Liberia by the elite"...

It seems to me that the overarching difference between the 19th century African American Cakewalk and Liberian Grand March is one of intent. The purpose of the Cakewalk was to ridicule the pretensions of the White elite while the purpose of The Grand March in Liberia was to retain the formal dance traditions of the White elite as one way of emulating them. Be that as it may, the music that is now used for Liberian Grand March and the way that dance is now done certainly appears to be different from its White European & White American forms. The music is more percussive and the dancing is more, well, "soulful".

So far, I have had only one occassion to experience the Liberian Grand March. This was at a wedding reception that I attended in 2003 for two Liberians who live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Most of the guests at the wedding were from Liberia but were then residing in Pittsburgh or other cities in the United States or Canada.

The Grand March was performed very much as shown in the videos that are featured in this post. However, at the end of the actual march, the lines of couples broke apart and the couples did the latest social dances. That is, they danced facing each other without holding each other hands.

I have good memories of that dance, and wished thn and now that we African Americans had such a tradition. However, given what I now know about Liberian history, regardless of how much fun that dance seems to be, in the cultural context of Liberia, it seems to me that The Grand March represented a sense of elitism that was opposition to real democracy. But if that was the case, perhaps that dance has evolved away from such attitudes. I'm interested in learning more about the cultural meanings of The Grand March in Liberia. And if I get another chance to experience that dance, I won't sit it out, but will join in the fun.

Example #1 - everybody dances with Cece Bridal party

This video is presented at the top of this page.

Example #2 - Grand March (Wedding Reception Cultural Dance)

Posted by reynandvalenzuela, August 19, 2008

"Grand March. 08-08-08 wedding" (Liberia)
I wrote the video uploader on that video's viewer comment thread asking for more information about that dance. Here's the response I received:

"My wife works with Liberians and having been there for almost 10 years, they offered to do the march at our wedding. my wife and i are both filipino's. this march was led by one of her co-workers. other than that, i don't know much, except that it was fun :). It was fun for the non-Liberians as well.
hope that helps."

Example #3: Grand March at the FC Red Carpet

Stanford Peabody, Uploaded on Dec 17, 2008

Red Carpet event

Example #5: Liberian Grand March

uploaded by luv4self007 on Oct 31, 2010

This is the Liberian Grand March done at a Bassa Ceremony.

Example #6: Grand March at LIB Indie Party

OTS Daivee-Chantel, Published on Jul 30, 2012

Dance extracts from the Liberian 2012 Independence day celebration
The Grand March in this video begins at .46.

Example #7: African/Liberian Grand March

Tatjana Johnson, Published on Sep 27, 2012

Whoever led this grand march was off...but its good enough

[Update: July 11, 2013]


vlartson, Published on Feb 10, 2013

Liberian Association of Greater Houston Inauguration 1/26/13.
Houston is is the fourth most populous city in the United States of America and the largest city in the state of Texas.

RELATED LINKS A photograph of Liberian President Tubman and his wife at his 1956 inaugural ball, leading the Grand March. included this snippent from Newsweek, August 2, 1971

...when it came right down to it, Liberians also liked the show he put on-his party-giving, his drum-playing, the quadrilles he sometimes danced with his daughter Coocoo."
"Uncle Shad" was one nickname for President Tubman (from his middle name). I find his daughter's name to be ironical, since my facebook name is Cocojams Jambalayah, and I'm sometimes called "Coco" on that site.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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