The Cuban Experience: The Cuban Contribution to Competitive Latin Dancing

Cuban Experience is a project that enriches the knowledge of students and colleagues on the authentic Cuban and Latin music and dance forms and their influence on competitive Latin-American dance styles.

How did the Cuban Experience project start?

Growing up in Slovenia and studying Latin-American music/rhythms and authentic dance forms, Barbara Ambroz became particularly interested in Cuba. In 1985, she set foot for the first time in Cuba. She felt more alive from ever. Therefore, from that moment on she wanted to share this revelation to everyone from the dance community.

The Cuban Experience was born in 2014 when Barbara Ambroz initiated the project. It is an yearly event that takes place due to the contribution of leading Cuban experts from Instituto Superior del Arte.

You can find more about Barbara’s life and her approach to teaching by listening to our podcast episode with her

Emphasizing a collaborative creative process, Barbara Ambroz was committed to working with top experts for the Cuban Experience. Furthermore, she also wished to put the spotlight on the voices of the Cuban music and the dance world. Throughout all the editions, professor doctor Ruud Vermeij, dance educationist and psychotherapist, was also present and offered his support.

A true, real Cuban Experience can only be lived in an authentic learning environment. The richness of the musical and dance heritage of Cuba can make an enormous contribution if it’s used properly in the competitive Latin-American dance styles. 

In the program the dancers worked together with artists from Cuba. Thus, were able to observe closely the differences in movement and join in. The vitality, beauty and richness of the culture the participants experience was life changing.

What it means to be authentic?

“The idea is not to imitate Cuban culture, it is to use the values from the culture where we can and implement in today’s style.” says Ruud Vermeij in the documentary.

Dancing the Cuban way is not the sign of simple revelry or laughter of the bodies, be it primary gestures, significant moments of an initiation dance, dance in couple or groups. In essence, it is the way in which the unique state of existing here and now is reinforced. It is the imprint of the spirit. And even more, to dance Cuban is the way in which the spirit interprets the consciousness of being present.

The connection with the ground

The natural grace of Cuban dance is part of a hidden spirituality. It’s a sign of the greatest vitality where dynamism is in its purest state. 

In African culture people cherish mother Earth. That is why their bodies communicate with the ground while dancing and yet are fluid doing so. Surging from this way of feeling dances like danzón and son were born.

El danzón

Danzón is a fusion of European influences with African influences. Among all the Cuban dances, the danzón has been coined as the “national dance”. 

El danzon deals with the sinuosity, sensuality and the virility theme specific to lots of dances of African origin. It is a romantic couple dance and it’s one of the first social dances that allowed a close position in the couple. 

El son

The origin of the Cuban son is Creole. This style is usually danced in contretemps. Because of its rural origin and that it was danced in the popular village festivals, the repertoire of figures is simple. But that does not exempt it from difficulty.

El son incorporates many of the figures of the Danzón that are executed in a closed/frontal position or the typical walks. It also begins to emerge figures and turns executed from a transient open position and even acrobatic movements.

Rumba Guaguancó

In Cuban Rumba the man and the woman dance together. It becomes a dance of sexual conquest. The dancers do not hold, each one dances without making physical contact. Its characteristic movements, its sensuality and flavor give dancers body expressions for their choreographic works. It expands the creative abilities to dance.

The Guaguancó dancers move to the rhythm of the percussion instruments, which are surrounded by a choir led by a soloist. They perform a very erotic choreography. The man goes in search of women through very strong and increasingly expressive pelvic movements. 

Regarding the role that the woman assumes, she evades and rejects it, until in the end she submits to the advances of man. As for the final act, it means that the conquest is finally executed and this is known as the “vaccunao” (vaccination). When a man attempts to give a woman a vacunao, she uses her skirt to protect her pelvis and then whip the sexual energy away from her body.

Cuban chachachá

While the Cuban is sensual and with complex rhythms, the ballroom is energetic and with a fixed timing. It can also vary in the chassé place in the rhythmic structure. In the case of the original Cuban chachachá and the ballroom, the rhythm is “two, three, chachachá”.

Competitive Latin American dances now barely resemble Cuban. Sadly, since their development, they took a very different direction. Only the basic figures are still there. Sometimes the politics, the institutions, the judges, the competition take over. Fear creeps in and we lose authenticity. 

Cuban dances = lots of feeling

Unlike dancesport, Cuban dances put emphasis on improvisation. The dancer is feeling the music, is consumed by it. Moreover, we can borrow the playfulness of the act and the organic side of it in some aspects of competition dances.

If you’re wish is to get a refresh and replenish yourself with pure joy and energy simply watch the online documentary Back to the roots. Barbara’s voice will guide you through the dance performances and explain how you can adapt Cuban movement to competitive dance.

In Western dances we express partly through the self. In Cuban dances the self becomes less important. Cuban dancers don’t wish to show of. They are just feeling alive and enjoying the music – something we might just have to learn again.

For more info on the project you can visit the Cuban Experience Facebook page.

To go in depth with the learnings from this project, you can buy the Cuban Experience book.

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Dancing has been my passion since I was 13 and since then I've been doing things in that direction. Writing, creating and putting together the biggest community for dancers around the world!

Tags: cuban latin dances latin-american program programme workshop

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