Upon arriving to Cuba, our group had made it clear to our professors that we wanted to better understand cuban culture. We wanted to learn the local dialect, the lifestyle and the struggles. We wanted to learn about politics, athletics, nationalism and socialism. We wanted to make friends, gain a new perspective on both who we are and where we came from but above all else, we wanted to learn how to DANCE.
Just three weeks into the trip, we approached our “madre cubana”, the on ground coordinator of the trip, in hopes of enrolling in a formal dance class. Because we had heard so much about the history of Salsa and Son, the influence its had on Cuba and the importance its had on its people, we sought to learn the rhythm and the steps from a maestro who could deal with eleven uncoordinated Americans who had little to no understanding of what Salsa was or how it could be learned. So, in hopes of achieving this goal, the madre cubana asked her son, Marcel, if he would be willing to teach us a few steps. Marcel, being roughly the same age as most of us at 19, was more than happy to conduct a weekly class with us. Marcel dances for the National Contemporary Dance Academy in Havana. Having taken years of classes at the National Art School (where we study now) and having danced for several years for this prestigious academy, Marcel was well prepared to take on this challenge.
Our first classes were difficult, to say the least. Being that most of us had never really listened to Salsa, our trouble came from our inability to follow the beat. Without an ability to follow the rhythm and beat, it is nearly impossible to follow the steps fluidly. This was frustrating at first and although we’ve taken weekly classes since our first month here, we still have difficulties mastering the beat of the song. Despite the frustration that mounted following our consistent inability to keep pace with the song, we were able to learn enough steps to hold our own in the discos. It has been a constant progression from the first class, however, we’ve now reached the level of combining moves to make us appear as if we almost know what we’re doing. For me, this is an accomplish within itself because although we’re not dancing as effortlessly and elegantly as Cubans, we’ve been able to separate ourselves from the foreigners who are usually in back, sitting and bobbing their heads.
Entonces, although we’ve yet to speak fluent Spanish, master the culinary skills of comida criolla nor become highly respected foreign curators, we have learned to dance Salsa. In a culture where the city comes alive at night, it is truly a vital skill to have. Quaint patios turn to lively dance floors, exclusive country clubs turn to animated concert halls and stumblers along the sea wall gain audiences of thirty, nightlife is a fundamental part of cuban culture and salsa dancing is an essential component of the Havana way of life.