Category: Cuban Dances

Cuban Dance 101

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

We want to start by saying that perhaps contrary to what many expected, all Cubans do not dance like salsa professionals; not even all of them like to dance. For some, it could be an evident axiom; for others, not so much, so it is worth the clarification. Although, Cubans have alternatives for any dancer. If you prefer slower and more relaxed types, you can practice danzón or son. But, if you desire faster and more energetic movements, you can try the casino, conga, rumba, and even reggaeton with its extreme sensuality add-on. In general, Cuba is full of options when you ask about dance styles. That’s what we want you to learn from our article today. Let’s find out what are Cuban dances like?

Local dances that Cubans like

The last three decades of history have changed the music-dance scene in Cuba quite a bit. Although many people tend to think that people from Cuba only dance casino (salsa style), rumba, and danzón, the truth is that Cubans nowadays practice a diverse and modern variety of dances. The cultural opening of the Island revived its link with international trends, a connection quite similar to other regions of the Caribbean and Central America such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, among others.

Like in other Caribbean contexts, reggaeton has become the favorite musical genre among the youngest and most of the Cuban population. However, even when Puerto Rican reggaeton is widely consumed by the Latinxs community everywhere, Cubans have their own style, different and particular. Without the intention of doing a far-fetched musicological dissertation in this regard, we will comment that this Cuban reggaeton is distinguished by a specific rhythmic cell based on the Cuban clave.

Cuban reggaeton also uses and generates a lot of local slang. Some of the most popular reggaeton names are Chocolate MC, Yomil y el Dany, El Chacal, Divan, El Taiger, Harrison, El Kamel, etc. Then, the dance has particular characteristics and patterns, totally different from the rest of the geographical area.

Besides reggaeton, the other most danced genre is timba, with its casino dance. Timba is a mix derived from Afro-Cuban jazz, similar to son (original type of salsa), but faster and more aggressive. Cubans started calling it casino dance since its widespread use in casino clubs during the ’50s. The style sets the basic rhythm of the salsa, but it does not do it linearly but freely.

This style allows greater freedom of improvisation and more spontaneous and rhythmic movements. You can dance in pairs and around, hence the famous “Ruedas de Casino” (Casino Wheels, a type of casino danced in a group). Among the most popular orchestras of this timba genre are: Alexander Abreu y Habana de Primera, Bamboleo, El Noro y Primera Clase, Alain Pérez, Pupi y los que Son Son, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, and Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco.

In addition to these dances, we found Rumba dance, a folkloric style that remains strong among Cuban peopleThe Rumba style is divided into YambuColumbia, and Guaguancó. The dancers’ energy and flavor explosion is their central characteristic. Despite its more than a hundred years of history, this “mestizo” style continues to captivate generations and generations of Cubans. 

The dance varies according to the style of each dancer and the type of variant. You can dance in pairs, separate people, or in a group. You can find rumba dance at both public and private parties, as well as in cultural or recreational centers. One of our favorite places to dance rumba is the Callejon de Hamel.

Another folkloric Cuban dance very vivid on the Island is conga. This genre has a marked African influence, where percussion plays the leading role. This style is a single type of dance, but in a group: the musicians play the congas (drums) and horns, and the dancers follow them through the streets, setting a basic rhythm with their feet. It’s also common for Cuban people to dance at least one conga at private parties and Carnivals.

Other styles danced in Cuba.

Cuba has been working hard to preserve a few other famous but “old school” styles among the popularity of many modern dances. “Classical” orchestras are a big part of this effort, groups that have essentially made Cubans dance for decades. Los Van Van and La Orquesta Aragón are two of these bands highly prestigious in the national and international music scene.

Los Van Van developed a music/dance style called Songo, where the Cuban son’s essence is interpreted with a particular rhythmic base and a charanga style of music format. The most faithful follower of this genre has been Maikel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor. Another of the most beloved by the Cuban people, La Orquesta Aragón, also uses a traditional charanga music format. They mostly performs danzones, chachachás, boleros, and sones.

However, we must point out that these music and dance genres are reserved for most adult populations. In the same sense, you must know that even when it seems paradoxical, the Buena Vista Social Club and its exquisite repertoire are icons currently reserved mainly for tourism and not the Cuban people. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy it every time someone plays it. 

On the other hand, it is essential to talk about foreign dance styles currently popular in Cuba, like merengue and bachata. For the youngest, electronic and pop music also appear in their tastes. These styles have become very famous after the abundance of more modern music festivals on the Island. In this realm, we need to add a special mention of a phenomenon called Cimafunk. This band has made the funk style fashionable and danceable among Cuban youth, mixed with Afro-Cuban rhythms and other indigenous stylistic features.

Where do Cubans like to dance? 

As a general rule, family celebrations, national anniversary dates, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, the New Year, school graduations, religions, and the reception of friends or relatives who live in other regions are often top reasons to organize a party. Food, drink, and dance music will not be missing in these celebrations. We must add that, in reality, there is not always a reason for this kind of event; many times, Cubans meet only for leisure and recreation.

Yes, socialization and partying are essential elements in Cuban society. To better illustrate the Cuban character on this topic, note that some dates indicated as “International Worker’s Day” or “International Women’s Day” are usually commemorations of struggle and protest in other world regions; in Cuba, they are holidays. In addition, we will mention events such as Festivals and Carnivals, different spaces that occur regularly, and where music and celebration abound.

So, if you are looking for a community where you can find cultural parties, not so much in clubs, but spontaneous and artistic events, full of traditions, culture, and joy, Cuba is one of the best places for it. However, you can also find all kinds of venues around the Island with excellent music and an impressive number of people dancing. 

 

If you want to learn more about Cuban dance, we highly recommend the Music Education & Cultural Cuba Tour

Cuba, a benchmark for dancers

We could list hundreds of reasons in favor of travel, and about the benefits of visiting and interacting with new cultures. One of these, without a doubt, is that knowing a new city allows us to confront stigmas and stereotypes usually built around culturally different communities. Cuba has not been exempt from this condition. That is why it is necessary to talk about these common stigmas related to Cubans and their culture.

If you like to dance, undoubtedly, Cuba will not disappoint you, especially since the conceptions of dance tend to be more accessible and without so many rigid structures of interpretation. As a general rule, Cubans value the atmosphere, the energy more than the virtuosity of the movements. Their celebrations are full of life and flavor, a friendly spirit, and communion. Even if you are not a dancer, but you like to enjoy this type of environment, in Cuba, you will have unforgettable experiences, and you will indeed be infected with the joy and warmth of its people.

ByYami Cabrera (Cuban musicologist and Business Development Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

The rumba is one of the most important and universal Cuban styles of music. Many travelers and music lovers go to the island of Cuba to learn and enjoy a good Cuban rumba. Without a doubt, it is a relevant cultural attraction of this Caribbean island. Therefore, in this article, we will be addressing some essential elements of this peculiar genre.

What does the term rumba mean?

The term rumba is included within a series of Afro-Cuban words that designate a collective and profane festival in Cuba during colonial times. It is originally conceived as a couple of dancers that occur within a related group of people. Rumba is a party, touch, and dance. It manifests itself within a cohesive collective by ties of kinship or friendship, of the neighborhood.

Rumba party? Music and dance in Cuban rumba.   

At the rumba party, some play the drums, others raise the song, others respond as a chorus, and the others cheer with claps, waddle, go into the ring to dance, etc. Initially, the instruments used in these festivities were boxes of different sizes, frequently boxes of cod and candles; to achieve the highest sounds it was percussed in a bottle, in pans, or in some metallic implement.

These instruments were replaced with the development of the genre by three “tumbadoras” or “congas” of different heights. Each drum has a particular and specific rhythmic function.

The highest voice, the “Quinto”, a talking drum, is the one in charge of the improvisations that urge the dancer to make different figurations. The third drum or “salidor”, with a deep voice, marks a low ostinato, and the middle voice, “tres dos”, produces another stable rhythm that balances the whole percussion section of the rumba music. The singer carries the “claves”, which start and remain stable during the song.

Generally, rumba songs are preceded by a melodic vocal inspiration called “Diana”. Then, with the entry of the text, improvisation begins to expose the issue that gives rise to the rumba; this is called decimating. After improvisation, it “breaks” the rumba with the entrance of the instruments and the alternating solo-chorus form.

When the rumba breaks, a couple of dancers go into the ring. The dance is evocative and, in general, convulsive and disjointed; every step and gesture represents the events that precede the possession of a chicken. The Cuban rumba also presents variants of its style of music and dance: the guaguancó, the yambú, the Columbia, and a Spanish type of rumba.

Cuban rumba style became known at the beginning of the 20th century through famous groups such as `Los Roncos´, and `El Paso franco´. Later, they met rumberos who acquired great prestige such as Agustín Pina, Roncona, Malanga, Tío Tom, Chano Pozo, Virulilla, etc.

New technologies and most current rumba sounds

Undoubtedly, technology has allowed the Cuban rumba to approach contemporary sounds. With it, the electric bass is incorporated into a percussive plane. On some occasions, you can see the electric piano’s presence and the jazz band’s current sound, which has accompanied us since the 1920s when Cuban musicians, mentioned above, brought the rumba and the son to the Latin Quarter of New York. In addition, we can regularly find the violin combined with a contemporary touch during the spiritual songs to the ancestors.

Nowadays, there are famous rumberos such as the Clave and Guaguancó, Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Los Papines groups, among others. The artistic representation of this folkloric manifestation can also be appreciated in the presentations of professional groups such as the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional, and local groups such as Rumbatá de Camagüey and Rumbávila de Ciego de Ávila.

Conclusions

As you can see, these are just some relevant data regarding the Cuban rumba. The Cuban rumba is a complex and very peculiar artistic phenomenon. On our part, it only remains to invite you to meet and enjoy this wonderful Cuban party with us.

The rumba is one of the most attractive Cuban styles for our team. That is why we always have a special space for her on our Tours. Havana Music Tours offers the opportunity to enjoy this style through direct contact with specific artists and musical groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas or Clave y Guaguancó.

However, we recommend our Cuban Jazz and Rumba Tour, Fiesta Del Tambor (VIP), and even the Josone Music Festival in Varadero (Rumba, Jazz Son). These tours specialize their experiences in Cuban musical matters such as the rumba, and especially its percussion instruments. It is valid to highlight that our agency will also take into account personalized suggestions.

Are you ready to dance and enjoy Cuban rumba with our Havana Music Tours team?

Join us for an unforgettable tour of Cuba. Book your CubaTour Now!

Also, check out our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist (Updated January 2022)

The life story of glory

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, more widely known as Celia Cruz, was a famous Cuban singer and left a footprint in history as one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Often referred to as Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz‘s biography and history are very rich, intriguing, and full of accomplishments. Therefore, let‘s explore and discover the history of the legendary Cuban singer in 4 steps that are made simple, to take you back through one of the most illustrious music careers in Latin America‘s history.

Step 1: Early Life Footprints

According to Catalina Alfonso Ramos, her mother, Celia Cruz began singing as early as 10 months of age!

Celia Cruz was born at 47 Serrano Street in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba while her father, Simon Cruz, worked as a railway stoker and her mother was a housewife who took care of a big family of 14.

What started early continued every year for Celia Cruz. She sang practically everywhere: in school during the Fridays’ actos cívicos, in her neighborhood ensemble, Botón de Oro, and in cabarets as a teenager when her aunt took her there to perform.

Yet, still, Celia Cruz originally intended to become a literature teacher, but it was that critical victory in a
talent show where she interpreted the tango piece „Nostalgia“ in a bolero tempo that became life-changing, making her pause her studies to pursue what became an elusive music career.

celia-cruz-promo

Step 2: The Rise Of Musical Career

Her musical breakthrough started here in Cuba with her first recordings made in 1948 and 1950 when she began singing with the celebrated Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera.

Celia Cruz sang regularly in Cuba with the ensemble on radio and television, made extensive tours, compiled full-length albums, headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub, and even appeared in five films that were produced in Mexico.

Unfortunately, after the Cuban revolution of 1960, Havana’s nightlife came to a standstill which made her leave Cuba.

A journey that changed her life and career forever.

celia cruz and band

Step 3: Commerical Success In the USA

When the revolution started sweeping over Cuba, Sonora Matancera with Celia Cruz was touring Mexico and decided to cross into the United States instead of coming back home to Cuba. This led Cruz to become a U.S. citizen by 1961, settling in New York City while enraged Fidel Castro forbade her to return to Cuba‘s soil.

In the beginning, as expected, she was relatively unknown in a new country, with a presence only in the Cuban exile community. In the mid-1960s she started gaining exposure and momentum after joining Tito Puente Orchestra which had a strong following across Latin America.

Not only did she become the face of the group, but Cruz captivated audiences with her enthusiasm, sparkling attires, and crowd entertainment, skyrocketing her musical career into new heights that not many could have predicted, forming one of the greatest music legacies in Cuban history.

celia cruz

Step 4: Strong Legacy & Death

Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003, at the age of 77.

Her legacy left behind still goes strong to this day, and it encompasses so many areas that she was able to touch with her fascinating 40-year musical career.

As Celia Cruz continued to perform throughout the years, she made over 75 records of which 23 went gold, winning multiple Grammy & Latin Grammy awards. But that‘s only the tip of a legacy iceberg that still floats around today, approaching 2020.

The singer made an appearance in several movies, stamped a star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received an award of the American National Medal from President Bill Clinton. The highest recognition an artist can receive from the United States government. Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians with many tributes made for her over the years, including music schools being named after her, television series, and many many more.

However, Celia Cruz did manage to return to Cuba in 1990 after she was invited to make a presentation at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. After that, she took a few grams of earth from Cuba with her.

An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment. Returning her home, forever.

Image links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz,_1957.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz_y_La_Sonora_Matancera.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Cruz_and_Ros-Lehtinen1992a.jpg