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Really, Really Dirty Dancing: More On Daggering

This article is an update to the post we published on Friday

In the video, (NSFW) a young woman stands on her head, legs spread. Two men stand straight on either side of her. As crowds look on, the two men begin to push her back and forth by her ankles until finally she’s flipped over and thrown into one man’s arms, legs over his shoulders. As he gyrates and thrusts onto her limp body, the DJ in the background urges them on. The woman is then thrown back to the other man, who grabs her from behind and begins to grind into her.

This isn’t Internet porn—it’s a YouTube video of “daggering,” a type of dance popular with some of Jamaica’s poorest citizens. It’s exuberant, vulgar, and may be responsible for a string of highly painful and personal injuries occurring out of the clubs in the bedroom. Music associated with daggering has been banned from the airwaves due to its lewd content, and the super-suggestive moves have the guardians of Jamaican culture sounding the alarm. But is daggering—and the dance hall tradition from which it sprung—a stain on Jamaica’s legendary musical heritage, or just the newest envelop-pushing phase of youth culture?

“Daggering” is slang for dance moves simulating sexual intercourse, some of which include excitable gymnast-like moves, writes Donna Hope Marquis, a lecturer in reggae studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in Kingston Jamaica, in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK. Dancing as a metaphor for carnal relations is nothing new—having an excuse to move in time with the opposite sex is the reason dance floors were invented. But daggering takes the pantomime to an almost cartoonish extreme; both in the lack of subtext in the dance moves, and the aggressively exaggerated way those motions are executed.  Men thrust wildly, often throwing women through the air or swinging them forcefully over their groins. A version called “sky daggering” has men executing flips or leaps onto their prone female partner.

The force and enthusiasm with which these moves are performed mean daggering is more than just controversial.  It's also been blamed for several health hazards. In an act of “sky daggering” gone awry, a male dancer attempting to launch onto his lying partner in a suggestive “69” position instead landed on her neck. An Internet video captured the stunt, leading to rumors that the woman had been killed. (That rumor is false. Supposedly, the woman even gave an interview in a local paper, claiming to have recovered quickly and gone to another dance that same night).

Jamaican doctors assert that those trying to replicate the powerful moves of daggering in the bedroom can end up with dramatic injuries: they say the incidents of broken penises have increased in the past year; according to an article in the Jamaican Star, some clinics are seeing two a month. “"It's possibly {sic} daggerin' people tend to have a predisposition to rough sex,” said a Jamaican surgeon interviewed by the Star. "(So) during very rigorous intercourse, the penis slips out and in an attempt to ram it back in, the man hits the woman's pubic bone and pops the penis." This evidence is mostly anecdotal; though hospitals we spoke to were familiar both with daggering and the injuries.

“Broken” penis is somewhat of a misnomer; there’s no bone to break. Instead,  it's a term to address the tear in the covering of the erectile tissue of the penis. Dr. Larry Lipschultz , professor of urology at the Baylor College of Medicine, said that while he was unaware of the daggering phenomenon or any health issues it may cause, sex that’s too rough can lead to penile fractures. “If you have an erection and it’s thrust up against something that’s not going to accommodate it, or [will cause it to] bend—a sharp bend will cause a fracture or breaking of the erectile tissue covering,” he says.

However, Jamaican DJ, promoter, and producer Jah Prince claims that the actual amount of  extreme daggering dancers is low. "A handfull of video clips online and several 'scripted' street dances in Jamaica show the most extreme levels of adult entertainment," he writes in an e-mail. "The majority of the time it done with full disclosure to the patrons and only enacted by a hand few of 'characters' in the crowd."

He also points out that a more popular form of dancing has been a return to more scripted and choreographed routines. "True dancing overall has actually re-surfaced in the pop-culture worldwide and with that comes all the choreographed routines from Jamaican professionals, yet with that comes the Daggering or Dirty Dancing," he says. "There is a time to do 'Couple Up', a time for a male to dance with his female partner, just as a time to 'Paranoid' or 'Nuh Linga'; dances done with multiple persons, either a group of males or females. Yet when it's early morning and the liquor is all sold and bar closed, it's time to let loose and find a consenting partner and start Dagga."

Though the term “daggering” has only been around since late 2008, says Hill, “dances that simulate sexual intercourse have been part of dancehall music and culture since its inception.” ‘Dancehall’ in fact, refers to music so suggestive that it could only be heard in clubs. “In Jamaica, they have a long tradition of banning certain kinds of songs. Until recently, those kinds of songs had not been heard on the airwaves,” says Rula Brown, an Atlanta-based, Jamaican DJ. “That kind of music has always existed in Jamaican culture, but the only place you could hear it or experience was in the dancehall.”

Due to more relaxed standards, several songs associated with daggering—like Vybz Kartel’s “Rampin Shop” and Spice’s “Check Mi Fi The Daggering”—were getting radio play over the last year. That is, until February, when the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica banned the music from radio, television, and other commercial outlets, in an effort to prevent a “deluge of inappropriate content on the airwaves.”

Like American gangster rap in the 90s, the lyrics of dancehall music are often violent and homophobic, and feuds between artists often erupt. “Dancehall has a lot of negative connotations, and daggering is only one of them,” says Carlyle McKetty, president of the New York-based Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music. He notes that Jamaican dancehall musicians have been banned from traveling to other Caribbean countries because those countries fear the negative influence of dancehall culture. The sex and violence of dancehall, argues McKetty combined with the perception that the DJs, MCs, and artists associated with dancehall, don’t feel an obligation to the greater good, is a symbol of the culture’s decline. “We’ve gone from “Wake Up and Live,” which was a popular Bob Marley tune to ‘why should artists be concerned about nation building?’” he said. “We’re concerned that dancehall music is endangering the ethos of reggae music and the brand of Jamaica.”

Of course, endangering the ethos of and culture of the country through lewd music was what they said about Elvis, too: one man’s (or rather, The Man’s) “inappropriate content” can be another’s good time – especially if the people looking to blow off steam are poor and marginalized.

“Jamaican society is extremely stratified, and people at the bottom are the core participants of dancehall culture,” says Annie Paul, a Kingston-Jamaica based pop culture critic and blogger.  “It is one of the few spaces and phenomenon they have control over.” It’s this lower class that’s more likely to die from random violence or police brutality, she says, and the brutal day-to-day conditions of lower class life might make such a physical, carnal form of self-expression appealing, and the risk of injury on a Saturday night at the clubs pales in comparison to the rest of the week.

Is crackdown on daggering music and dancehall culture—like other pop culture panics of the past–nothing more than middle-class moralizing? Paul notes that Carnival, an almost two-month long bacchanal festival, largely for and by the middle- and upper- class of Jamaicans, includes a dance called “wining” full of suggestive gyrations. “There’s a hypocritical side,” says Paul. “Poor people don’t see the difference between that and daggering.”

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