A Tribute to our Women, pillars of Tradition: Mrs. Marie-Victoire Persani a Danm Bèlè.

maloya_danseuse_03A danm Bèlè, or “lady of Bèlè”, is a creole expression that defines a female Bèlè dancer. This very respectful address indicates the reverence that La Rond Bèlè (the circle where Bèlè is played and danced) has for women. Graceful, creative and daring, the danm Bèlè plays a crucial role in La Rond. If she dances well, the drummer will follow her steps, the singer will comment on style, her partner is compelled to match her moves. A danm Bèlè is therefore an inspiration, primordial to the artistic creation in Bèlè. Among the women who have title is Mrs. Marie Victoire Persani.
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In January 1949, in Bezaudin, the same neighbourhood of Ste-Marie where Edouard Glissant grew up, was born Marie Victoire Persani from a notorious Bèlè family: the Persanis and the Caserus. She is indeed the younger sister of the celebrated Bèlè singer Ti Emile Caserus, and the daughter of the illustrious “Man St-Ange” a great Danm Bèlè whose style has impacted all Bèlè dancers from Ste Marie.

From age four, Marie Victoire was introduced to the Bèlè world by her mother. She had the opportunity to learn from the greatest singers, drummers and dancers such as Dulténor CASERUS, Emile LAPOSTE (who initiated her to the dance kalennda), Féfé MAROLANY, GALFETE and Michet MARCELLIN. With such illustrious teachers and models, Marie Victoire has developed a particular style where the technique Bèlè is supreme. Her steps are always well marked. She stomps the ground with force and precision. Her skirt is an extension of her person. Her style is succession of fluid moves and breaks, which make it unpredictable and very entertaining. She is really impressive, but instead of me going on and on about her technique, watch her in Edmond Mondesir’s “Manze Tala”, where she is the main dancer with the cornrows, and the pink skirt.

In addition to her talent as a dancer, Marie Victoire has also played a great role in perpetuating the Bèlè tradition in Martinique. In her earlier years, she was an active member of what I call the “Bèlè renaissance”. This was the time when the journalist and ethnologist Anca Bertand was promoting Bèlè on the local and International scene and when Martinique started to recognise this dance and musical genre as a legitimate cultural heritage. She was everywhere with her brother Ti Emile dancing and singing in various dance groups. In the late 1980’s she founded the group MATJOUKANN, a Bèlè reference that was active over a decade. She was also the owner of one of the most popular “kay Bèlè” (Bèlè house) of Ste Marie: “Anba Tol La”. Along with the “Pitt Caserus”, “Anba tol la” was a convivial place where men, women, children came to share the Bèlè experience. Very welcoming and pleasant she always had a nice word or treat for the children making everyone feel at home in La rond Bèlè and by doing so, planting the Bèlè seed in them.

Nowadays Marie Victoire is still very much active in the Bèlè world as she is a member of Coordination Lawonn bèlè, an association organising and promoting Bèlè and making sure that the tradition is transmitted to the next generation. A daughter, a sister, a mother, a Danm Bèlè, Mrs. Marie Victoire Persani is a true Pillar of our culture and we, at Zil’oka, we salute her.

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By Nathalie Montlouis

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4 Responses to “A Tribute to our Women, pillars of Tradition: Mrs. Marie-Victoire Persani a Danm Bèlè.”

  1. […] compelled to swap in/join in and take over. There is also an acceptance of more and more female singers. I wondered what my Bèlè teacher in Martinique, Josy Michalon, would have said. Originating […]

    • You are right to question our traditional cross dressing and the current uneasiness with homosexuality in the French Caribbean.
      Let’s keep in mind that la ronde Gwoka/ Bele is a space for emotional healing. There is no place for hatred. Our people has suffered too much from it to be discriminating against other human beings. Spiritual and emotional liberation is crucial if one wants to move forward! Remember : ” Le pays depend bien souvent du coeur de l’homme: Il est minuscule si le coeur est petit, et immense si le coeur est grand”
      -Simone Schwarz Bart-
      My island is huge 🙂

  2. Thank you Dr. Montlouis. Your articles make me want to go to Martinique even more. I am writing a book and would love to meet Mrs. Marie-Victoire Persani, Danm Bele. Is she currently living in Martinique?
    Thank you for your informative articles in Ziloka.
    Prof. Yvonne Goodridge, Barry University, Miami, Florida

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