Skanking models–no, that’s not a rude put-down, it’s the description of a photo spread from Mademoiselle magazine, September 1964. This issue featured a six-page spread of models “doing the ska,” complete with some text that makes the dance, and hence the music, sound like the newest hippest thing. Here are a few excerpts from the text:
“What’s it like in the discotheques these nights? There’s a new dance, the Ska–like the Game, set to music.”
“The Ska-step, Riding the Horse.”
“Where the music goes round and round (on records), where the dance is the thing and the Ska’s the limit, what’s going on. Rowing the beat, one of the characteristic steps.”
“The step–pulling the rope–another subdivision of the Ska.”
“The basic ska and a far-from-basic dress.”
Any link between the date on this vintage article and the timing of the World’s Fair in New York? You betcha! This article was part of the push from Jamaican officials (Edward Seaga) to promote Jamaican ska, and therefore Jamaican culture and tourism. The person standing behind the cameraman on all of these shots, teaching these models to skank, is none other than Ronnie Nasralla, he told me himself. Nasralla said they also performed with their troupe of Jamaican ska dancers, including Jannette Phillips when she wasn’t performing at the Peppermint Lounge, and Sheila Khouri Lee, before she became wife of Byron Lee, on American Bandstand and at hotels and clubs all up and down the east coast. Performing music for these stints was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. The dance, “the Ska,” was nothing like the “skank” during the 2Tone years when the pogo and other forms came into the mix, but it was a dance with “steps” designed to capitalize on the success of similar dances, like the frug, the twist, the watusi and others.