I am sitting on the rock wall overlooking the ocean at the Copacabana Hotel while watching the sun, still resting on the edge of the horizon, take its last dip. I close my eyes with a smile and slowly reopen them. I am still here, Cuba, a place where music and dance exist within the blood, body and soul…
Through this memoir depicting my journey to Cuba, I hope to give our readers a personal account of experiencing such a fascinating country, rich in history, culture, music and dance. This is not in any way an attempt to promote, divulge, or scrutinize any political agendas between Cuba and the United States, but a means to share my personal account of the beauties of music, dance and culture.
We, as in my partner in crime Chasi Annexy, set out to Cuba this past April with a group of professionals to learn firsthand the history and current trends in dance and music, while exploring its contributions to today’s world of Latin dance and music. The trip, a one-week excursion was organized by a Marazul Dance and Research trip, the largest and most experienced travel agency that specializes in licensed travel from the US to Cuba and MetaMovements as Program Consultants. We were given the opportunity to delve into the culture and lives of so many unique and interesting individuals as well as to learn everything from Afro-Cuban folkloric history to the evolution of traditional Cuban dance as well as Cuba’s recent innovations in using dance and music as tools in improving community health, academic learning, and social development.
Throughout our one week journey, we learned so much, but I would have to say that learning about Casino and Rueda while interviewing Juan G. Gomez Barranco, President of the Founders Circle of Casino and Rueda in Havana, was one of the most interesting discussions I had while in the country. As a lover of history, and not just of Latin music and dance, I couldn’t help but be in awe of what I was listening to. Juanito, who we quickly came to know him as, wrote, along with his brother Jorge Gomez a historical fiction screenplay about the creation of Casino and all of the stories revolving around that era. Juanito, who is also director of the 1830 Club where I had initially met him, a club marked as one of Cuba’s infamous nightlife hotspots, was recently granted permission to build a museum in Havana to preserve the culture and history of Casino and Rueda dance. First, Rueda is a type of Cuban partner dance that is done with a group of people in a circle. There is a leader or caller who shouts out different commands to the group so that everyone is moving at the same time and dancing the same movement. It is one of my favorite dances from Cuba and I wish that more New York dancers would be open to learning and building the community of Rueda Casino.
What I found so incredibly remarkable and you can read the full article of “The Revolution of Casino y Rueda: The Untold Story of Juan G. Gomez Barranco” was the story behind the dance and how it actually reflected what was going on in Cuba on a political and social level. So much was changing in the country on so many different levels and this idea of working as one group or what they called collectivism was literally shown through a style of dance. It could easily be described as a political demonstration created by the people in support of the ideology of the Revolution in the 1950’s, however those who experienced this era said that “nobody said let’s make up a new dance, it just happened.” So to this, one could agree that it was inadvertently created on a subconscious level.
If you have any passion for dance history or how cultures evolve, you might share my fascination on the impact this had on an entire nation all for the love of one dance! After listening to this story, I immediately knew that I would have to write Juanito's story, and as much as I want our readers to read it, think about it, dissect it or for some, criticize it, I hope that it is something that he would be proud to read. Humbled by my experience and honored to share so much with so many different people, I will continue to unravel the journey in the weeks to come…
Con amor cubano,
Photos by Chasi Annexy