At St. Joseph Girls’, we played games in the school yard abounding with songs and clapping. Rounds of catch, where we chased one another until breathless, set our ribbons and hair clips nearly askew. Some days, we were brazenly sweaty, dirtying blouses and shoes. The school yard is where I learn how precious true friendship is, never to point at a cemetery or my finger will surely drop off, the sting of rulers’ beatings, and it is where I first get acquainted with my waist’s rhythm.
With hands akimbo, in navy blue pleats, we knew there was something about dancing. In raucous and resounding sessions of “Brown Girl in the Ring,” and “I went to Kentucky, I went to a fair”— the key part being, “now, rock it to de bottom, rock it to de top; now turn around and turn around until you make a stop.” We chose our good friends to be next in the circle and girl by girl, skipped and sashayed, threw our hips in unison with the claps and singing. Our little girl selves already knew that those girls who could wine, dropping down and back up with an enviable smoothness, were to be whispered about. Of course, one would be among the first girls in our class to grow breasts and need a bra and boys would like her. Somehow, we had already made correlations handed down to us.
I come from a wining people. A bottom-rolling, shoulder shaking people. People who make circles, can spellcast with gyrations.
When my mother sends me, small, bosey-backed, with my rolling feet, to La Danse Caraibe, I learn classical ballet, Graham modern and bélé, alongside other black and brown girls. My arches stabilise and my spine learns to lengthen. I am moved up even when I just barely pass some of my Royal Academy of Dance exams; I whirl around on pointe in shoes and tights that do not yet match my skin tone. Ballet taught me about alignment and carriage and how to hold my core in in ways that have benefited me tremendously. Wining though, will uncork me; it is another narrative I will unlearn about myself.
Mrs. Colthrust, bespectacled, brown-skinned, vice-principal and excellent teacher of literature, vehemently bans wining (and “‘Lambada’ tights”) at the carnival jump-ups. We, a mixed gender secondary school in Port of Spain, were already suspect for wanton disappointments. I scarcely do the “Dollar Wine”, awkward in my spotty skin and existence. I believe I do not know how to wine. I am as scared of wining as I am of simply being around people I do not know, even some I do.
Inside my first Fatima Mayfair, a waist is pressed against my derriere so lightly I will question its existence on a loop in my mind after savouring the nascent movement, but I do not reply in kind, unsure of what to do. At vacation Theatre Camp, Wendell Manwarren teaches us to revere our greats: Ella Andall, Andre Tanker and others, and the sacred ritual of flagwomen and jamettes of yesteryear — how to figure-eight wine. It is not as easy as it looks. Something unclanks in me, creaking like an opening door.
By my own estimation, I start to party late at eighteen, finally experiencing Base and Club Coconuts, where a friend of a friend reputedly gets fingered by a boyfriend in a dark corner, and the loud bass thrums in my belly as young people were posed off not moving or wining. A large group of male and female friends and I walked from up the hill in Cascade and through town at some ungodly hour after Coconuts because rides fell through and no one wanted to call their parents. Most weekends I rock plenty matte lipstick, fresh plaits and roll with my girlfriends whom I sometimes overnight by, slinking into houses of East and West Trinidad in the early cool of the morning.
Later, every special wine’s motivations and meaning became dissected in conversation. As a teenager, I take every wine personally, unseasoned in this knowledge. I develop a spontaneous crush on the cute dougla boy who I meet on the dance floor and holds me down all night in Coconuts and I am saddened when next I see him and he doesn’t acknowledge me. Is just a wine. A wine can mean nothing or something. It shapeshifts according to the consensual agreements of the participants. I grew to steel myself.
I come into wining with trepidation and because teenaged boys’ approaches are looks-based, as are most hetero young men’s (despite Bunji’s assertion that “we doh watch face”), getting dances is a tricky business largely dependent on your perceived desirability, who you may know in the dance and accessibility. How to negotiate wines, how to blank and extract yourself from one, how to rest a bumper upon a groin and roll in sync is complicated. I will eventually learn that we may gift one another with nice wines, but no one is obligated to do so.
My first carnival fetes were UWI Splash and Boyscouts; I wine and wine like I never christen. I am unafraid and I own my waist, electrified by the throngs of people dancing, the melodious soca pumping from the speakers. It is the first time I see Machel Montano and his frenzied waist perform live. I remind myself that I should never forget how to give myself permission to be this free, to make this feeling mine and carry it around with me.
As young people, we were taught that wining is dangerous business. During the heyday of Superblue’s Road March reigns, I played Kiddies Carnival each year accentuated by bright makeup, glitter and costumes. There is, naturally, no wining in Kiddies Carnival. My first big people mas is Peter Minshall’s Song of the Earth and then, Tapestry, but I am still a teenager and it shows. I do not wine and no one wines on me. My father is inside both bands, somewhere, in another section, and my mummy who isn’t playing mas is home with my brother; she looks out for us on TV crossing the Savannah stage.
People wine in Minshall, though, all over. It is beautiful to behold and inside Tapestry: squares of earth-tone fabric and applique, David Rudder live in the flesh, the rhythm section, the energy and vibrancy. My childhood best friend and I were awash with mounds of brown cotton, gold fabric swathed as our crowns. Somewhere over east Port of Spain, the sky opens and sprinkles. Someone raises a calabash to a classic Charlie’s Roots song. Big women and men have unleashed their wining credence through Piccadilly Greens and all over town as far as the eye could see. That was living, the surety that you earned the right to play yourself and douse your everything in revelry and rainwater.
Through wining, I restich myself as an adult, and I wine for me first, and no one else. I do not care about being chosen. Welded to the music, I acquiesce to being hoisted onto waists, bend myself over to the beat and walk away. Wining helps me to attend to myself, to learn how my body is capable of moving unscripted, its strengths and weaknesses: rhythmically and intentionally; I feel capable climbing in and out of every song at will. Wining is not always sexual, but it can make me feel sexy like my slow wine is a luxurious silk scarf billowing, a string of jewels catching a flash of light — one someone may never actually get to wear.
Contrary to popularly held beliefs, no one is born knowing how to wine just so. You cleave it out the base of your spine, awaken it like kundalini. To wine is to unhinge yourself. To openly wield your waist to rhythms. For a self-conscious woman — it can mean cracking a shell, or slipping from a soft skein underneath. You learn to clasp yourself with both your hands. At some point, you succumb to the knowing that circular movements can take you places outside of your body: some holy, some stink and dutty. You either release whatever you are tethered to in those moments, or drag it down with you, into the undulation of the sweetest wines. Wining can activate the sacral chakra, open a portal through which you can generate transformative energy.
And if a pelting waist is unleavened sacrament, who and what are you healing? What is your praise song?
“He said what?” my voice was loud, brittle; I am angrier than I have been in a long time. “I going and give him a piece of my mind!” I shouted into the phone.
“No, don’t do that!” she warned. My then friend’s lover, a former mutual acquaintance who had joined us at a local soca party, was the person being referenced.
That Friday we were in a small Caribbean restaurant, where callaloo was available on Sundays, as well as curry and doubles every day until they sold out. It was owned by an older West Indian couple from Trinidad. On Friday nights and some Saturdays, too many people crammed into its inside, sweating and gyrating to Florida-based soca DJs. Outside, the lime continued beyond the door and in the strip mall’s parking lot, with folks sitting or leaning on the trunks of cars, and ol’ talk being exchanged between knocking back Carib or stout before we dipped in to continue the party.
I called him anyway. My words were a bush fire on a rampage through orange-winged parrots’ homes. It’s not that I have anything against strippers; quite the opposite, I couldn’t accomplish any of the feats of pole prowess they can, and sex work is legitimate work, but I knew it was a diss and not a compliment. I knew by the way it is reported to me and the person whose mouth it came from. I visualised the sly disdain wrapped around the statement. Fellas like him do not respect strippers. Saying I dance like a stripper is meant to shame and shame me for my wining. I left a scathing voicemail reminding him, among other things, that this is how my people dance to our music — we wine; this is my culture, if he doesn’t like it, doh watch meh, and leave my name out his mouth.
While growing into myself, the more I loosened the grip of my fearfulness, the more supple my waist became, and the surer I became that I can embody what I wanted myself to be able to do. Maybe not yet in every other sphere of life, but here in those instances rolling to lovely soca music: yes. Being comfortable and confident to wine has settled sweetly into my skin.
Soyini Ayanna Forde has work in Small Axe, Apogee, Cleaver, Moko, sx salon, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her writing was listed as a notable essay in The Best American Essays. She was the winner of the 2016 Small Axe Literary Competition in poetry.