The “L” Word–Limbo

Limbo—I’m talking about the dance, not the place somewhere between heaven and hell.

Do you remember the limbo? Are you too young? I remember being the limbo champ once in school. In all fairness, I think I had an advantage. Since I was only about four and a half feet tall, I was much closer to the ground than my fully grown friends.

For those of you who are not familiar with the dance, the dancer leans backward and moves to a Caribbean rhythm as he dances his way under a horizontal stick without touching it. If he touches it or falls backwards, he’s out. During a competition the dancers follow in a single line with the stick being gradually lowered each time through until only one dancer remains.

People often associate the dance with Hawaii, but it originated on the island of Trinidad. The name comes from the Trinidad/English dialect, “limba” meaning “to bend,” from the English “limber.”

Research indicates that in certain African beliefs the dance reflects the whole cycle of life. The dancers are moving under a pole and emerging on the other side representing the triumph of life over death.

And I bet you thought the limbo was just another dance. But then you probably received most of your limbo knowledge, like I did, from Chubby Checker and his “Limbo Rock.”

Do you have a limbo story? Please share.


  1. I lived in Trindad, W.I. for over six years and I too fell in love with the limbo, the steel drums, and most of all the culture! Neat to see your blog post about Trinidad! The island nation shows up in my first Sidra Smart series titled Dance On His Grave.

  2. Hi, T – I don't have a limbo story, although I have a lot of word association with African, Caribbean, and Chubby Checker. When I was 3 or 4, I saw Harry Belafonte singing the Banana Boat song on TV, very Caribbean in the puffy-sleeved shirt. I thought he was the most gorgeous thing on the planet. My mother freaked out, because we're white and he's… not. Years later, Chubby Checker came along with the Twist and all its variations. Again, the skin color thing escaped me, and I thought he was cute as a button. Again, my mother freaked.

    Several years and two marriages later, I finally met The One. Turns out, he's African-American (we just celebrated 17 years). And yes, my mother freaked.


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