Dancing Well vs. Dancing Correct: A Smaddiaesthetic Approach

By Thomas Talawa Prestø (Inspired by conversations with Akie DeLeon son of the Calypsonian Roaring Lion)


In the realm of Caribbean, African, and African Diaspora Dance, commonly known as Africana Dance, a fundamental concept differentiates the idea of “Dancing Well” from “Dancing Correct.” This distinction is deeply rooted in the cultural and aesthetic frameworks of these dance forms, particularly through the lens of Smaddiaesthetics—a richly layered concept I have coined. Smaddiaesthetics emphasizes the assertion of self-worth and identity, blending the physicality of dance (somaesthetics) with the philosophy of smadditization, a term derived from Caribbean vernacular. This article delves into the nuances of these concepts, exploring how they shape and redefine dance practices within the African Diaspora.

Dancing Well vs. Dancing Correct

Dancing Correct

The concept of “Dancing Correct” is anchored in a rigid framework, often characterized by strict adherence to predetermined templates. It demands exact angles and precise movements, promoting a homogenized body ideal that is frequently exclusive and unattainable for many. This approach values uniformity and perfection, often sidelining the individuality and diverse physicality of dancers. In essence, “Dancing Correct” prioritizes technical precision over personal expression.

Dancing Well

Contrary to this, “Dancing Well” centralizes the unique attributes of each dancer, embracing their strengths, body size, shape, range, and personal flair. It advocates for a dance practice that is adaptable and integrative, allowing each individual to infuse their personality and embodied experiences into their movements. This concept resonates profoundly within Africana dance traditions, where community validation through call and response is pivotal. A dance step, when adapted to the dancer’s personhood and executed with presence and intention, is celebrated and acknowledged by the community. Elders, for instance, can hint at movements with subtlety and still be revered as virtuosos, their experience and presence elevating the dance beyond mere physical execution.

WELL: Expanding the Concept of Dancing Well

Building upon the established notion of Dancing Well, I have created an acronym to encapsulate its core principles:

  • Wholistic
  • Expressive
  • Lively
  • Limitless


Wholistic dance considers the dancer’s entire being—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is an all-encompassing practice that honors the complexity and totality of the individual. This integrative approach ensures that dance is not merely a physical activity but a holistic expression of the self. Smaddiaesthetic Wholism, a sub-concept under Wholistic, emphasizes the inclusion of multiple bodies into the concept of performance and dance. It means performing with the body one is given, utilizing every element—physical and metaphysical. If you have hair, it dances; if you wear clothes, they dance. A stiff hip becomes a distinct walk, incorporating every aspect of your being into the dance. Pain, laughter, sadness, and glee—all of these emotions are acceptable, even in juxtaposition, creating a rich tapestry of expression.


Dance as a medium for personal expression allows individuals to articulate their innermost emotions, thoughts, and narratives through movement. This principle underscores the importance of creativity and individuality in dance, celebrating the dancer’s unique voice and story.


Dance should be vibrant, energetic, and full of life. Liveliness emphasizes the joy, vitality, and dynamic energy that dance brings, making it an exhilarating and spirited activity. It highlights the importance of infusing each movement with enthusiasm and vigor.


The concept of being limitless encourages dancers to explore, experiment, and transcend their boundaries. It promotes an expansive and unrestricted approach to movement, celebrating the potential for growth and discovery. This principle advocates for breaking free from constraints and embracing the boundless possibilities of dance.

Smaddiaesthetics: A Framework for Dancing Well

Definition and Context

Smaddiaesthetics, a term I coined, is deeply rooted in the Caribbean philosophy of smadditization. Derived from “smaddy” or “somebody” in Caribbean vernacular, smadditization represents the assertion of self-worth, personhood, and identity, especially in the face of societal marginalization or disregard. It is a resilient affirmation against oppressive forces, a declaration of “I am somebody.”

Smaddiaesthetics lies at the intersection of somaesthetics (bodily perception and practice) and smadditization. It conceptualizes the body and its movements as powerful tools of resistance and affirmation, reflecting the unique cultural, social, and political dynamics of the Caribbean and its diaspora. Through this lens, dance becomes more than an art form—it is a mode of identity assertion and a challenge to dominant narratives.

Components of Smaddiaesthetics

  1. Assertion of IdentitySmaddiaesthetics represents the assertion of self-worth and identity against marginalization. By combining somaesthetics with smadditization, it utilizes the body as a tool of resistance and affirmation. This approach is not only about expressing oneself but also about claiming and proclaiming one’s place in the world.
  2. Smaddiaesthetic ExperienceThis concept celebrates moments where one’s existence becomes a symbol of defiance and affirmation. For example, when a person with a disability dances with fervor and grace, it is an embodiment of smadditization—a declaration that their narrative is significant. Similarly, when a Black dance company performs in traditionally “white” spaces, it challenges stereotypes and expands the range of representation.
  3. Smaddiaesthetic PracticeDaily actions, no matter how small or routine, become radical acts of self-assertion. For instance, a Black woman wearing her hair naturally is practicing smadditization, challenging Eurocentric beauty norms and celebrating her heritage. This practice is a powerful statement of self-worth and pride.
  4. Smaddiaesthetic RepresentationArtistic mediums provide marginalized communities with a voice to celebrate their narratives and contest stereotypes. A mural artist painting stories of marginalized communities, for example, is practicing smaddiaesthetics, offering a canvas to declare their existence and importance.
  5. Smaddiaesthetic ActivismThis intertwines activism with bodily expression. Dance at protests against racial discrimination, for instance, embodies smaddiaesthetics. The synchronized, powerful movements of protestors proclaim their shared identity and challenge marginalization.
  6. Smaddiaesthetic PhilosophyThis intellectual exploration delves into the convergence of body, identity, and society. Scholars analyzing the dance forms of marginalized communities explore how these forms encapsulate histories, struggles, and aspirations through the philosophy of smadditization.
  7. Smaddiaesthetic WholismSmaddiaesthetic Wholism emphasizes the inclusion of the entire body and being into the concept of performance and dance. This means performing with the body one is given, fully utilizing every element—physical and metaphysical. If you have hair, it dances; if you wear clothes, they dance. A stiff hip becomes a distinct walk, incorporating every aspect of your being into the dance. Pain, laughter, sadness, and glee—all of these emotions are acceptable, even in juxtaposition. Smaddiaesthetic Wholism advocates for the integration of one’s complete self into dance, celebrating the full range of human experience and expression.

Understanding smaddiaesthetics requires recognizing its roots in the Caribbean ethos of smadditization. It is about loudly and proudly proclaiming one’s worth, identity, and history through embodied practices. Whether through the subtle gestures of a Caribbean elder or the defiant dance of an activist, smaddiaesthetics offers a lens to appreciate and celebrate diverse identities and resist oppressive narratives. This framework not only enriches our understanding of Africana dance but also reaffirms the transformative power of dance as a medium of personal and collective expression. Through Smaddiaesthetic Wholism, we embrace the full range of our physical and metaphysical being, ensuring that every element of our existence contributes to the dance, making it a holistic and inclusive practice.