DANCING IN CUBA---FIRST-HAND REPORTS

I had some interesting conversation with a couple of men who danced in Cuba regarding the how Salsa and Rueda are done there.  I thought some of the readers of this website might be interested, so I've summarized the information below.

1.  The first conversation was with a man who heads Boogalu Productions. This is an organization that makes videotapes of Cubans Rueda groups and other forms of music and dance in Cuba. See their website below.
Boogalu Productions
unsung Cuban Music & Dance
www.boogalu.com

Here is what happened: One day in June, 2005, I got a phone message and an email from the head of Boogalu. He wanted to talk to me about something on my website where I mention the videos he produces.

Since I am very interested in what is going on in Cuba with respect to Rueda dancing, I naturally wanted to talk to him personally. So I called him back and we had a very long, fascinating talk.

It turns out that he travels frequently to Cuba, so he is very familiar with current cultural trends in Cuba. I thought what he said was so interesting, that I wanted to share it with visitors to my site.

His take on Rueda and Casino dancing is that it was in its heyday in the l970's and 80's. In fact, he commented that that is where the move "setenta" got its name! At that time, many young people did Rueda and Casino. Also he said that the word "Salsa" has only been used recently to describe this popular Cuban dance. Cubans call the popular dance form that originated in the 70's "Casino." And before that, the popular dances were variations on the form known as "Son".


Above: DanceInTimeProductions and Latin Motion do Rueda at a park amphitheatre in Virginia

However, in the 90s, Rueda and Casino dancing became less popular with Cuban youth. It was still done at private parties and many people still knew the dance. But in relative terms, it was not as popular with the youth as it had been in the 70s and 80s. Starting in the 90s, and continuing to the present, many Cuban young people are interested in more modern music, such as Hip Hop and American and Latin Pop Music.

Then around 2002-03, there was a revival of interest among some groups of young people in Rueda dancing. However, the way Rueda began being done at this time was a little different than before. It is now used more for performances, with long strings of choreography. That is in contrast to the shorter moves that are typically done in Ruedas at casual parties in Cuba.

In Cuba today, Rueda groups will often get together and work out dance presentations that they can perform. In addition, there are Rueda competitions now at the principal cities in Cuba. The moves of the dance have evolved, like any "living art form." So jumps and "Hip Hop" and other newly invented moves have been incorporated into Rueda dancing along with these longer strings of choreography.

And listen to this: He said that the role of Rueda dancing for some youth groups in Cuba today could be loosely compared to what it's like to be on a sports team in the U.S. The young people in Cuba get together and work out presentations and compete with other Rueda groups. For them it is great fun, and when they do a good job, they get positive public recognition.

Furthermore, at Salsa clubs in Cuba these days, many young people can be found dancing "suelta" and "despelote" style. This is individual or solo dancing, as opposed to partnership dancing. He described the "despelote" style as a gyrating motion to the music. (His description reminded me of how people who go to rock concerts dance to the music. They basically groove to the music and dance solo.)

Let me add a caveat regarding all this information. I have heard reports from others who have visited Cuba that are a bit different than the above. As we all know, everyone has their own outlook and take on the things they see. (I have heard people who have spent time in Cuba argue with each other about whether Cubans tap on the 8th beat of a Salsa phrase while dancing Rueda. Each person claimed to know because he/she was there and saw it with their own eyes.)

But I thought these outlook on Cuban dancing from someone with a lot of expertise and experience there was so interesting, that I wanted to share it. And if any readers of this website have been to Cuba and happen to have a different take on what is happening there, I'd love to hear from you!

Barb

And if you are interested in dancing that is done in Cuba, don't miss the mention on this website of the documentary film "La Rueda de Guanabacoa," that some Rueda teachers are preparing.  You can watch a trailer for this movie by clicking on the link below:
Click here
Readers who would like to contact producer Sarita Streng about contributing to this project in any way can reach her at saritastreng@yahoo.com

***********************************

2.  On the weekend of November 14, 2009, I went with a few dancers from our dance company to the Miami Salsa Rueda Congress.  While there, we were introduced by Akiko, a lady who has danced with Danceintime to a Cuban man who teaches a particular style of Casino Salsa.  With her help, we arranged for our group to take a lesson from this gentleman, Yoel (the Y is pronounced with a J sound in English) Marrero, at his home studio.  (Yoel's number is 7869709551.  His email is miamicasinodancestudios@gmail.com.)  Yoel is dedicated to preserving the original style in which Cuban Salsa Rueda was done.  The Miami influence has altered the dance, plus dances evolve over time like any art form.  So Yoel has made it his mission is to spread knowledge of how the dance was done when it began in the hope that this style will not be lost over time.  He has a very detailed understanding of the original Cuban Salsa styling, and emphasizes precision, technique, etc. It was clear he was a very experienced teacher and dancer.  One of the key elements of the style he teaches is that neither followers nor leaders ever do a true backrock.  So often in the dance as others do it, a dancer will rock back slightly (not far!) to push forward on the next step.  But the way he handles these moves is to twist the body with feet staying on the ground--like a pivot---and then move forward once the feet and body are facing in the direction that the dancer is going to go next.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, below are videos from our lesson with Yoel to show you this style.  Note that since his goal is to publicize and spread the word about this original style of the dance, material from a DVD that he gave me is shown below with his permission and at his request! 

To see a video of Yoel illustrating how he steps forward and eliminates "back rocks," click here.  Note he is dancing with Akiko Meguro and we had to cut off their upper bodies to get a good view of the feet as it was a small room.

To see a video of Yoel showing how to do Cuban style Salsa turns, click here.

To see a video of Barb, Yoel and a few others dancing Rueda, click here.

 

3. In April of 2010, two Cubans visited a number of cities throughout the US.  One was Anibal Ramos Socarras, a doctor in Cuba.  The other was Yenaivis Fuentes Ascencio, a Medical School student in Havana.  They were holding a reception and speaking at the U of MD in the early evening one day of the tour.  As a Cuban Salsa instructor there, I was invited and told to invite any of my students who were interested.  I immediately mentioned that the day they were speaking, was the day I teach at U. MD, just a couple of hours before the reception.  I asked if they'd like to come and dance.  I was told that they had a packed schedule and it wouldn't work out.  So imagine my surprise when Yenaivis showed up at my class with her translators and hosts!  Apparently when they told her about the class, she was very excited and didn't want to miss the chance to dance.  We brought her immediately into the circle and all danced together!  Great fun!  After that I went over to the reception and heard Yenaivis and her colleague speak. They talked about Cuba's political system, the value of universal health care, etc.  If I try to summarize their position, I'm afraid I'll get it wrong.  So to avoid inaccuracies, I'll just say it was an interesting talk.  They were doing something similar in quite a number of American cities; I'm sure it was an great experience for them!  Wonder if they found dancing in the other cities?.......

4. Largest "Freedom Concert" In Cuba
Janelle Gueits, a cousin of Rene Gueits who runs a Cuban Salsa school in Miami, has produced a documentary promoting freedom in Cuba.  It was inspired by a huge "freedom concert" in Cuba and has footage of the event. The concert had 1.3 million people in attendance---one of the largest such gatherings in history!  This is the youtube documentary trailer: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VsCytvdI4c&feature=youtu.be. For more detail: http://www.13.co/

 

Copyright Barbara Bernstein of DanceInTime.com, 2005