Take a stroll through the streets and squares of Cuban sounds and cities and you’ll see that this nation has a real passion for dance and music. It’s plain to see in places like the vibrant colonial city of Santiago de Cuba, which is the birthplace of Afro-Cuban song and dance, where a carnival takes place every July. And then there’s Havana, where the Malecon (or seafront promenade) is lined with salsa joints.
Tell me more about Cuban dances…
The number of different dances the come from Cuba seems endless. Many have dance African and Spanish origins, and they’re all about ‘Latin rhythms’. So if you love dance, you need to make sure you see a performance while you’re out there. And if you’re dying to put on your dancing shoes, then find a club or book some lessons and give it a go.
Here’s a quick lowdown on Cuban dance to help you brush up on your local knowledge.
With roots dating back to the 19th century, this slow-paced dance is one of the most popular Cuban dance traditions. It’s heavily influenced by ‘contradanza’, a form of English country dance that was adopted in the French court of Louis XVI, and is thought to have originated from French-speaking immigrants. The fact that habanera is characterised by slow, delicate movements make it different from the livelier Cuban dance styles that this vibrant island is known for. Here’s one of them…
Did you know that the conga originally came from Cuba? That’s what ‘comparsa’ stands for, and it’s become one of the best-known dances in the world. Today you’ll see it taking place during Cuban carnivals and other occasions of celebration, and it’s characterised by short steps. This is because comparsa is thought to have come from African slaves working on plantations in Cuba, who were chained together with shackles around their ankles.
You may have heard of rumba, but in Cuba the term covers a whole genre of music and dance. When it comes to dance, the rumba is informal, spontaneous and sassy. And there are three main styles of Cuban rumba:
- the yambú – this is the oldest style, which dates all the way back to the colonial period (1515−1898)
- the guaguancó – this is the most popular rumba style
- the columbia – this is the fastest style and a strong African heritage
In Cuba, Salsa is said to have emerged from a combination of Son (an early Cuban dance) and Rumba. And today, this is a social dance with an energetic rhythm, plenty of body rolls and turns. Cuban salsa is also known as Casino, and it’s hugely popular among the Cuban population.
Traditionally, this is an elegant ballroom dance for couples, and it was born in the ballrooms of Havana and Matanzas. Over the years, it’s become more energetic, and more modern versions of the dance (known as danzonete and danzon-cha) have a quicker tempo.
Ready to give it a try? Put on your dancing shoes and let your spirit move to the Cuban groove!