Top 12 Things I Discovered On Bay

Top 12 Things I Discovered On Bay

I Left It All On Bay Street ~ My New Found Respect For Junkanoo

As I walked from my car on Boxing Day morning, laden down with my costume of “Love,” several people enthusiastically shouted out to me, “Who you with?” I proudly proclaimed, ROOTS, and much to my glee, I seemed to find every Roots fan on the entire island, on my way to Bay Street. Their words of encouragement felt like little imaginary high-fives to my spirit, and turned my nervousness into pure excitement. Much to my amazement, several parents excitedly asked me to take photos with their adorable kids, and I felt a bit like the Bahamian Disney princess that never was. (Disney, you listening?)

This is what I discovered, as I rushed in Junkanoo, for the very first time.

PHOTO CREDIT: DNewton Photography

You can see the rest of his amazing Boxing Day Junkanoo Photos HERE

"Every costume that dances its way down the streets of Bay, started out as just simple, and unassuming, brown cardboard. By sheer imagination and skill, that cardboard is transformed with wire, glue and white paint to form the base of the magnificent works of art that would set Bay Street ablaze with every vibrant hue imaginable."

1. Rain, Shine, Hell or High Water – You Rush!

The energy was high, even in the Roots waiting area. Our group would go on right behind the Valley Boys, who coincidentally had a very similar “Love” inspired theme. However, as a Junkanoo novice, this meant nothing to me – I was just excited to be there. At some point, just before our group would take to Bay Street, there were a series of mishaps. But, sure enough, nothing stops “Showtime!”

The strap of my ‘off the shoulder’ piece wasn’t working, and a quick thinking Marshall fastened it to my bustier top with some spare wire – a quick, but effective, fix. Things went awry, as they always do, but not a soul seemed frazzled as commanding shouts rang through the air and Roots members worked frantically to get their giant banners in place for the group’s sixth place start. Even as the rain began to pour down, and the glitter ran from my ill-conceived tennis shoes, a lovely lady in a hot pink free-dance costume turned to me, and said “Rain or shine, we rush!”

That lovely lady told me that she didn’t plan to rush that year, but the “spirit” lead her to make a costume the night before. With her reassuring smile, the pound of that hot goatskin drum hitting me deep down in my belly, and the sweet kalik, kalik, kalik of the cowbells, my energy was right back to 100! A few less than sober Junkanoo fans gave us some colorful words of encouragement that loosely translated to “disregard the competition, because they are not as enchanting as you, my dear, and you will surely denigrate their pride with your electric performance.” Their colorful commentary had my fellow free-dancers and I “lit.”

I was ready!

2. You Can Hear ALL The Lively & Provocative Commentary

Bahamians are funny….and wild! I never realized that the men and women rushing in Junkanoo were able to hear ALL of the sidelines commentary. And, what colorful commentary it is. I heard all manner of speak, fully unfiltered and honest. Some enjoyed Roots, while others called us many variations of “not good.” But, the bright lights, the lively crowd, and the heart pumping music created a cacophony of perfection. I was just as entertained by the crown, as they were of the parade.

3. I Was In Awe….Cardboard, Glue and Wire = Magic & Plenty $$$

In the short amount of time that I had gotten a peak into the world of Junkanoo, I was amazed by everything I never knew about the parades, and the extreme dedication of the men and women who rush. I have a tremendous, new found, appreciation and respect for Junkanoo.

Every costume that dances its way down the streets of Bay, started out as just simple, and unassuming, brown cardboard. By sheer imagination and skill, that cardboard is transformed with wire, glue and white paint to form the base of the magnificent works of art that would set Bay Street ablaze with every vibrant hue imaginable.

Each costume is painstakingly built and decorated by hand. As the men and women of the Junkanoo community gear up for the performance of a lifetime, all the adoring public sees is lush costumes and bright colors, but they don’t see the burnt fingers, tired eyes, aching backs, or calloused hands. They also may not be aware of just how much time, energy, and money, that Junkanoo performers dedicate to their craft.

As I danced, pranced, and twirled down Bay Street (as best as I could do either of those things) I found myself just staring at the craftsmanship around me. From my numerous trips to a number of Junkanoo supply stores, I discovered that Junkanoo costumes cost an arm, leg, spine, pelvis, fibula, hair follicle and tailbone – THEY IS EXPENSIVE! One elaborate costume can contain thousands of dollars worth of tricks, prism, glitter, feathers etc. And, most performers pay for their costumes, out of pocket.

4. Junkanoo Results Are Personal! Pride Is On The Line!

My coworker compared Junkanoo costumes to the feathers of a peacock, and I wholeheartedly agree. As mentioned, costumes take countless hours to create and are expensive, but many Junkanooers spare little to no expense for their creations. They wear their costumes with pride, and the more elaborate the piece, the more evident how dedicated they were to creating it – they literally, wear their pride on their sleeves.

When you insult a costume or a group, you are insulting the hard work of individual performers. Their costumes are the result of sleepless nights and diligence. The dancers leave work and practice for hours, and the musicians play their hearts out until their hands are calloused and their throats sore.

Part of the allure of the parade is the colorful commentary from spectators and the Junkanooers themselves. If you ever wondered why they get so hot when results time comes around – this is the reason!

5. Don’t Get Run Up On Brakes

I got lots of warnings ahead of time, and heeded them. They were common sense warnings, but I was grateful for the heads-up. Basically, don’t ask for assistance/pay for assistance with your costume, at the last minute, and get left behind. Don’t arrive after everyone has already lined up, and not make it to Bay Street. Don’t arrive on Bay Street with an unfinished costume and have the Marshalls tell you to keep it moving.

Thankfully, I made it.

6. SHOWTIME!

On Bay Street, you perform your heart out because of pride, no matter how many people are watching. However, there is a point where the judging begins, and it’s SHOWTIME. The energy erupts, the chants begin, and the lights are that much brighter. With hot glue burnt fingers, burning calves and a rain soaked costume, I was all-smiles when I hit Rawson Square. I saw so many familiar faces, and I was genuinely happy.

I can’t even describe the feeling. You just have to experience it.

7. Wait, Wait, Wait, GO!!!!! And Wait Some More…

There is a lot of waiting in Junkanoo. At the starting point, you will have to be lined up, in the order that you will be heading out. The Marshalls are a tad pushy (very) and loud, but they don’t mean anything by it. They just need you to be in the right spot, at the right time, until it is time to perform. Once you have performed on Bay Street, there is also a long wait before Shirley Street.

As mentioned, my costume was wired to my bustier, so I was in it for the long haul, even when the rain came pouring down for the hour and a half of down time. I couldn’t sit down, which didn’t help my burning feet, but did keep me from falling asleep. Thankfully, during that wait, you are given lots of sports drinks and water, and there are snacks you can buy. With no shelter, by friends and I hid behind a costume for some reprieve from the cold rain and ate a crab salad. It was great.

8. You Bet’ Not Be A Tired Body

I am not in the best of shape, nor the worst. I workout some, and complete a few 5k races a year, but I knew rushing would not be easy. I wore comfortable shoes, and the costume was not that heavy. However, the unexpected burning in my calves was not too pleasant. Thankfully, I wasn’t in too bad of shape, and made it both laps with ease. By some miracle, the third lap was cancelled due to the rain. I’m not sure that last lap back up Bay Street would have been a pleasant one, to be honest.

9. You Have To Paste Everything!

This may sound dumb, but I didn’t realize that every part of your costume had to be pasted – from your shoes to your under garments. I also didn’t know what was considered “undergarments.” I knew that the cardboard elements of your costume had to be pasted and tricked, but came to find out that the cloth skirt that most performers wear, and their tops also had to be completely decorated in crepe paper and tricks. And, a word to the wise – don’t put glitter on your shoes. Just don’t.

10. Tourist Love Junkanoo!

They really do! I got asked for so many photos, and they were so happy to be there. Junkanoo is truly the best show on earth.

11. Don’t Count On Preserving Your Costume

I always thought it was a crying shame that Junkanoo costumes were simply discarded after just one performance, or picked clean of valuable feathers and tricks, despite the time and energy that went into making them. Junkanoo costumes are just so stunningly beautiful that I thought they deserved to be put in a museum or on display somewhere….

THEN, I rushed, just once, and I understood.

Performers leave everything they have on Bay Street for that one performance, and all they take with them is the experience and the memories. And, they are great memories……

I will not lie. My rain soaked costume, complete with the bleeding colors of wet crepe paper, didn’t leave Bay Street. I left it there in case someone wanted the feathers or the tricks off of it. The only thing I took with me was my hat, which will serve as a pleasant reminder of my amazing experience.

12. I….Think I Have The Junkanoo Bug

It was always on my “Bucket List” to rush in Junkanoo. I only expected to do it once, especially with the time, energy, and money needed to take part. But, I had such an amazing experience, I find myself looking forward to next year, wondering what the theme will be, and what I can do to make my costume even better or more exciting.

I cannot say for certain, but I think I will be back!

Stray Observations

As the parade came to a close, on Shirtly Street, there was a beautiful rainbow in the sky. I saw it as a fitting end to a great night.

I had the sweetest sleep when I got home, that morning. THE. SWEETEST. SLEEP.

My calves were sore even three days later.

One heckler followed us from the end of Bay Street, waited at the rest point, and continued to heckle the group until he thought that the music and performances were just right! He then turned into a completely different person, and was in all his glee. That man was so excited, it made my heart smile.

Glitter is evil. It took me days to clean up most of the glitter in my home.

Hot Glue is worser. The stray threads from the hot glue gun get everywhere!

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