By Sasha Pust
It took me awhile to decide wether I want to go to Cuba to finally see and get a taste of the “Real Thing”, or not, but once I decided, I just knew it was going to be unforgettable, a once in a life time experience. And I was right – it was Magical!
From February 10-18, in Havana, Cuba, a very unique and extraordinary workshop took place. Some of the top professional Latin couples, single dancers and teachers joined forces with authentic Cuban dancers to experience, learn, feel and get inspired by Cuban music and dances.
It’s impossible not to feel the Magic once you set foot on Cuban soil. The whole country seems to be like in a time loop, somewhere between 1950s, 1960s. It is almost like being in a Spielberg movie, going back in Past to set Future on its tracks.
People there have created their own reality, their own world where Cuban music takes central stage.
It is essential part of their culture and believes. It’s the way they communicate and express themselves. It comes from inside, where the passion lies, where the feelings are, where there is no right way or wrong way, only pure soul. In a way it is their way of survival.
This is why their music and dance touches us so deeply and with a speed of light.
It is passionately pure, honest, simple, beautiful and timeless.
Our group is not the first one to catch the “Cuban germ”. People went to Cuba before and every time they brought over to the “Western world” their own version of “Cuban Experience” – their own understanding of Cuban Culture, music and dance and spread it around….
And here lies the answer why so many different interpretations of Cuban music and dance came to life in the Western world.
Musicians, dancers, artists and other people who visited Cuba, were there in their own time, with their own social, political, economical and cultural background, not to mention their own personalities and temperaments. Through these lenses they saw their version of Cuba.
This is how our version of Latin American dances came to life, or New York Salsa….During our workshop we were extremely lucky to hear prof. Dr. Alen Olavo Rodrigues who explained how Cuban music and dance evolved and he emphasized one very interesting thing that caught our attention – we should not think of Cuban Rumba, Danzon, Son, Cha cha cha, Bolero, Mambo as Afro-Cuban. They are purely Cuban, because they evolved on Cuban soil. It is true that the black slaves brought with them cultural and musical heritage from Africa, but the music and dances we know today, developed in Cuba.
(For more curious – see the link http://www.danzon.com/eng/history/cuban-music.htm)
Where it starts
And here is where our mission starts:
We can all agree that Competitive Latin American dances, we are being part of, resemble very vaguely to Cuban dances. Some of the basic figures are immediately recognizable, but the development that took place in our world took a rather different path.
It was truly amazing to listen Dr. Alen Olavo Rodriguez explaining how religious, political, social, economical circumstances and people shaped Cuban music and dance.
Same thing happened to Competitive Latin American dances. They were introduced in Europe in a certain timeframe, mostly after 2nd World War and are a “product” of this period.
Try to transport yourselves there, just a few years after the Second World War and feel the energy and the atmosphere, the political and economical situation. The world was new, people were starving for positive energy, for glamourous events, dreams – Holywood style Big Bands – Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado…. the movies that came from the States – Bathing Beauty with Esther Williams, Latin Lovers with Lana Turner and Ricardo Montalban…
This was a frame that shaped Competitive Latin American dance-world as we know today. Glamorous dresses, sophisticated technique, artistic choreographies.
Plus, the name alone – Ballroom Dances also contributed to this frame, which Latin American dances became part of.
We could say that “Western” dancers and choreographers took elements from authentic Cuban dances and transformed them, adapted them to Western tastes.
And we – “Westerners” are actually quite creative and flamboyant people. We always tend to upgrade things, make them more complex, more glamourous, more stylish, more accomplished, more excellent. Everything about us is more, bigger, better – competition all the way. We are caught into it, because all our culture is permeated with this way of life.
True to the word, in years to come after the second world war, we diligently and persistently worked on technique, character, style, choreographies, costumography – because we could. Economy was good and getting better, politics (at least in Western world) was all about friendship and cooperation, people were traveling more and more, ideas and dreams got wings.
Today we find ourselves with this truly amazing Style of Latin American dances that we can call our own, because we developed it.
The bodies of our dancers are able and better trained than ever before, the understanding of mechanics, movement and partnering has reached its peak and yet….. there seems to be something missing – increasingly so.
We are like this beautiful lady who keeps on putting layer upon layer of make-up in a desperate wish to impress, but is in fact failing to do so, because her true inner beauty doesn’t come through.
And this is the one thing that is so different from the Cuban style – they do not dance to impress, they dance because they like to feel and enjoy this pure movement and rhythm in their bodies:
The sensuality and hiding in minimal movement in Danzon
The insinuation of body movement in Son,
And openly showing their sexuality in Rumba.
Times have changed and people are digging deeper to get inspired and find answers. This was the purpose of our Mission Cuban Experience. To go “back to Cuba”, to the roots, feel the Passion of their dance, find ideas and inspiration and bring them into the Future.
Hopefully we did this with minimum of filters – bring as much authenticity as we possibly can and translate it into our world of Competitive Latin American dances.
I believe the time is ripe for this development – we don’t need to impress all the time. It is so exhausting and insincere. We should feel more, express more and do less.
It is like a “secret technique”, that Robert de Niro and Anthony Hopkins advise for great acting – Do not try too hard – it will only look unconvincing….
People always respond positively to honesty, authenticity, clear message, innovation and true feelings that come from inside.
Let us create an inspired and inspiring future for our Latin American dancing.