From madras costumes to quelbe dancing in the middle of Market Square, groups participating in Friday’s Children’s Parade showed off exactly what this year’s “Culture to the Extreme” Carnival theme meant to them.
Several groups, including the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School’s Dynamite Rays Marching Band, used bright colors, such as neon pink, orange and green, to represent the tropical landscape of the Virgin Islands. The “Skittle” theme also shows off the wide range of cultures in the community, according to Rays’ Band Director Dionne Donadelle.
“We’re going a little extreme, using the costumes as little bursts of energy along the parade route, but we’re also honoring our culture with things like the straw hats that the students are wearing,” Donadelle said. For the most part, the school’s drum line and brass section are the main draws at every performance, but this year, Kean stepped it up a notch with vocals by Kandysee Leonard, second runner up in this year’s Carnival Queen court.
“With all the activities that the kids have going on, we never get to practice as much as we want to, but we’ve been at it straight for at least the past few weeks now and that’s enough to get us out on the road,” Donadelle added. “They sound great and everyone is having so much fun.”
The Joseph Gomez Elementary School also used similar colors for a “Cultural Twist” theme that organizers said represented different parts of the islands’ “cultural landscape,” from the green hills to the afternoon sunsets. Organizer Shereese Male said the troupe included students from Joseph Sibilly, Lockhart and Yvonne Milliner Bowsky Elementary schools; the group’s female members danced and twirled batons up front, while the boys, dressed as traditional clowns, brought up the rear.
Other groups, however, went a different route. St. Croix Central High School’s band, for example, played on the “shimmering” beauty of the islands with new costumes that added silver sequins in with the traditional white, red and black. Central High added in a majorette squad and flag team to their performance, which band director Tom Joynes said has been in the works since October with the help of many of the school’s staff and parents.
“Don’t they look beautiful? They are here to rock ‘the Rock,’” he said, referring to St. Thomas. Central High is a regular in the Children’s Parade, but Joynes said this time around that the students didn’t focus on learning the traditional soca music the Carnival audience is used to.
Coming up the road playing Pharell’s “Lucky,” the band, according to Joynes, was excited to learn “all the songs that are playing on the radio.”
“That’s what the kids want to do, that’s what they want to dance to and we definitely came out to dance,” he said.
The traditional Charming Twirlers majorette troupe had a more patriotic color theme, with red, silver and blue sequins, but mixed it this year with a routine set to local music from the past and present. Three sections of Twirlers went up the road, which parents said included girls from “babies” on up to junior high.
“Like most of the groups, we start practicing in October,” Twirlers parent and coach Kaisha David said. “For the most part, many of the younger girls are beginners, but they work hard to learn the routine and once they are here and the music starts, they’re so into it you’d never be able to tell. And they have so much fun during the year just being with each other. That is really the best thing about the group: the camaraderie.”
Several groups also used madras material to play up this year’s cultural theme, including the V.I. Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy, whose students have also been practicing for months for Friday’s parade. Montessori has a set group of parents and staff working on the annual entry, including Lisa Aqui, who was out on the route keeping the students in line with the choreography.
Montessori’s theme this year was “A Cultural Mix for the World to See,” which Aqui said not only represented the diverse nature of the school, but also of the islands.
“We are an international school, so we celebrate diversity every day and this is a celebration of all the cultures we have represented here in the Virgin Islands,” Aqui said.
The younger students were dressed in traditional market wear, with white shirts and madras bottoms, while their headdresses were topped with symbols of the past, including sticks of bamboo, coal and cotton.
(Ananta Pancham also contributed to this report)