Music and dance are as much a part of Cuba as the island itself. The spirit of the people can be found in the rhythm of the music— in the gentle sway of hips and arms to upbeat, sensual music of guitars and drums. Cuba as an island was originally populated by indigenous tribes before the Spanish conquered the island in the late 15th century. For years, Cuba remained a colony of Spain, and with the introduction of the African slave trade, a new Cuba was born. Dance existed then within slave cultures, an expression of freedom not known elsewhere. Out of the rubble of a newly formed nation in 1898 came Cuban culture as we now know it: a spicy melting pot of indigenous, European, Latino, and African influences. Dancing is an important part of this newly formed culture, the freedom of movement a metaphor for the larger freedoms of the Cuban people. Like any artistic expression, dance in Cuba is constantly changing and evolving, much like the waves from the Caribbean or the energy of a Havana night. It would be impossible to experience Cuba without experiencing some sort of music and dance, but for those who feel the music and cannot resist the urge to move, there are ways to explore Cuba with dance as the primary focus.
When in Cuba, go check out one of the many discos and cabarets in Havana. These dance halls are home to energetic performances, live music, and is a place Cuban culture comes to life. The Tropicana Club is Havana’s most famous cabaret, though it is also one of the more expensive dance experiences. Other discos are scattered throughout the cities, and the best way to learn about the best dance halls is from the locals themselves. Ballet is also a significant dance form in Cuba, and there are many ballet companies performing some of the most interesting and beautiful ballet in the world. Many various styles of amateur competitions and studios are scattered throughout Cuba, and some even have open viewings for rehearsals. Though the best way to experience Cuban dance life is to go out and experience it yourself!
Cabaret dancers wear elaborate costumes and perform nightly for packed audiences (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
It is hard to watch dance and not want to dance, and luckily for you, learning how to dance the salsa, cha-cha, or mambo is an easy task to tackle! You can attend any number of workshops and classes on the traditional Cuban dances in Havana year round. Here, you will learn the exact motions, the counts, and get a feel for the complexities and intricacies of Cuban dance. Don’t be discouraged if you do not feel as graceful as some of the dancers you might see in the streets or at the discos— that is not what the dance is about! Whether you decide to attend a dance workshop or not, the best way to experience dance culture is to simply dance. You will not have to look too long or hard for a night spot to mingle with locals and tourists alike while feeling the beat of the “one, two, three, cha-cha-cha.” Let the music take control and the island inspire you!
Locals invite tourists to dance in the historic streets of Trinidad, Cuba (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
To really get a feel for the culture and significance of Cuban dance, check out one of the many dance festivals in Cuba. Havana is home to the International Salsa Festival, a week long salsa dance from April 23-29, 2018. Here, there are dance lessons, dance parties, tours of Havana, and nightly dance performances and live shows. Havana is also home to many other festivals including the Havana Ballet Festival, Salsa Cuban Festival, International Cuban Dance Festival, and many more.
A street performer dances on stilts in the streets of Havana.
Regardless of how you chose to experience Cuban dance, opportunity, lively music, and rich cultural experiences await. From the friendly heat of a sunny afternoon to the steamy energy of a humid tropical night, Cuban dance is everywhere. Let go of yourself and enter into the way and sway of the music and the thrill of the experience.
Kathleen Goodwin is a writer and educator from the United States. Over the past year, she spent four months backpacking through 16 of America’s national parks and traveled for three months in India and Nepal, and she is already scheming and dreaming of her next trip. She loves travel because of the opportunity it presents to experience new cultures, meet new people, and eat new foods. She enjoys reading, writing, practicing yoga, gardening, and hiking. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband Zack and their dog Sadie. Connect with her online at her website, thegoodwinlife.com, or on Instagram @kdgoodwin11.
Photo cred: Yoeztudioz via Wikimedia Commons