Dance from Cuba

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Cuban style dancers
Cuban style dancers from Monterrey, Mexico City.
Cuban dance performance
Cuban dance performance in Guardalavaca.

Cuban culture encompasses a wide range of dance forms.[1] The island's indigenous people performed rituals known as areíto, which included dancing, although little information is known about such ceremonies. After the colonization of Cuba by the Spanish Kingdom, European dance forms were introduced such as the French contredanse, which gave rise to the Cuban contradanza. Contradanza itself spawned a series of ballroom dances between the 19th and 20th centuries, including the danzón, mambo and cha-cha-cha. Rural dances of European origin, such as the zapateo and styles associated with punto guajiro also became established by the 19th century, and in the 20th century son became very popular. In addition, numerous dance traditions were brought by black slaves from West Africa and the Congo basin, giving rise to religious dances such as Santería, yuka and abakuá, as well as secular forms such as rumba. Many of these dance elements from European dance and religious dances were fused together to form the basis of la técnica cubana. Cuban music also contributed to the emergence of Latin dance styles in the United States, namely rhumba (ballroom rumba) and salsa.[2]

Dance styles[edit]


Danzón is the official musical genre and dance of Cuba.[3] It is also an active musical form in Mexico and is still beloved in Puerto Rico. The danzón evolved from the Cuban contradanza (also known as the habanera). In Cuba, these dances were influenced by African rhythmic and dance styles and so became a genuine fusion of European and African influences.[4]

The danzón developed in 1879, and has been an important root for Cuban music up to today. Its precursor is the habanera, which is a creolized Cuban dance form. The danzón was developed, according to one's point of view, by either Manuel Saumell[5] or Miguel Faílde in Matanzas.[6]

The form of danzón created by Miguel Faílde in 1879 ("Las alturas de Simpson"), begins with an introduction (four bars) and paseo (four bars), which are repeated and followed by a 16-bar melody. The introduction and paseo again repeat before a second melody is played. The dancers do not dance during these sections: they choose partners, stroll onto the dance floor, and begin to dance at precisely the same moment: the fourth beat of bar four of the paseo, which has a distinctive percussion pattern that is hard to miss. When the introduction is repeated the dancers stop, chat, flirt, greet their friends, and start again, right on time as the paseo finishes.

Early danzón was played by groups called orquestas típicas, which were based on wind instruments. They had several brass instruments (cornet, valve trombone, ophicleide), a clarinet or two, a violin or two and tympani (kettle drums). At the beginning of the 20th century, the lighter and somewhat more elegant sound of the charanga emerged (see Early Cuban bands). Initially, they were small orchestra of two violins, a cello, flute, timbales, güiro, and doublebass. Charanga and típicas competed with each other for years, but after 1930 it was clear that the days of the típica were over.


Mambo is a musical form and dance style that developed originally in Cuba, with further significant developments by Cuban musicians in Mexico and the USA. The word "mambo" means "conversation with the gods" in Kikongo, the language spoken by Kongo slaves taken to Cuba. Modern mambo began with a song called "Mambo" written in 1938 by brothers Orestes and Cachao López. The song was a danzón, a dance form descended from European social dances like the English country dance, French contredanse, and Spanish contradanza. It was backed by rhythms derived from African folk music.


The cha-cha-cha, or simply cha-cha, is the name of a dance of Cuban origin.[7][8] It is danced to the music of the same name introduced by Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrín in 1953. This rhythm was developed from the danzón by a syncopation of the fourth beat. The name is onomatopoeic, derived from the rhythm of the güiro (scraper) and the shuffling of the dancers' feet.[9]

Styles of cha-cha-cha dance may differ in the place of the chasse in the rhythmical structure.[10] The original Cuban and the ballroom cha-cha-cha count is "two, three, chachacha" or "four-and-one, two, three". The dance does not start on the first beat of a bar, though it can start with a transfer of weight to the lead's right.[11]

Nevertheless, many social dancers count "one, two, cha-cha-cha" and may find it difficult to make the adjustment to the "correct" timing of the dance.[12]


The Cuban bolero dance originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century;[13] it does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name.[14] In the 19th century there grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar.

Pepe Sánchez is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.[15][16]

The Cuban bolero has traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example is Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova.[17][18][19][20]


Salsa dancing originated in Cuba and Cuban salsa is danced around the world. It evolved from earlier dance forms such as Cha cha cha and Mambo which were popular in New York, and incorporated elements of Swing dancing and Hustle, as well as elements of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dances such as Guaguanco and Pachanga. In many styles of salsa dancing, as a dancer changes weight by stepping, the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Weight shifts cause the hips to move. Arm and shoulder movements are also incorporated. The Cuban Casino style of salsa dancing involves significant movement above the waist, with up-and-down shoulder movements and shifting of the ribcage.

The arms are used by the "lead" dancer to communicate or signal the "follower," either in "open" or "closed" position. The open position requires the two dancers to hold one or both hands, especially for moves that involve turns, putting arms behind the back, or moving around each other, to name a few examples. In the closed position, the leader puts the right hand on the follower's back, while the follower puts the left hand on the leader's shoulder.


Ballet is one of the most popular and well-focused areas of dance in Cuba. Ballet shows are performed at the cabaret, which is where people go and watch the shows, while surrounding the stage enjoying food and beverages. Cabarets are very well known especially when a ballet show will be performing, although the more advanced ballet shows are performed at major theaters such as the Paris opera Ballet. Cuba has ballet schools across the country. The Cuban National Ballet School (Escuela Nacional Cubana de Ballet) in Havana, with approximately 3,000 students [21] is the biggest ballet school in the world and the most prestigious ballet school in Cuba.[22] It is directed by Ramona de Sáa. The Cuban National Ballet is also a renowned ballet company located in Havana. There are different types of ballet, but one of the most recognized and well distinguished is psycho ballet. Psycho ballet is a therapeutic art developed in 1973 by Alicia Alonso.[23] This specific ballet is known to release spiritually satisfaction and enhance self-development. Psycho ballet is taught by a team leader and psychologist in many hospitals, schools and community centers across 17 countries for those who suffer from mental, motor, and several other disabilities. Their goal is to improve and strengthen the individuals sense of personality, growth, and a higher quality of life. Other countries that have experience this type of treatment are developing more research as it continues to guide and heal those who need it. Cuban ballet promoted a post colonial repositioning to the countries dance culture.[24] This was a huge turn around for the dance community because dance is not only for those who have a passion for it, but those who have an interest, but never thought they could. In Cuba everyone knows ballet is a high career and the admission is intense with earning to be more than doctors. Today a government subsidized preprofessional ballet school operates in each of Cuba's fifteen provinces,[25] this shows the importance of ballet and how much they value the art of it, as well as how the institute expanded as a whole.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel, Yvonne (1995). Rumba: Dance and Social Change in Contemporary Cuba. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780253209481.
  2. ^ "Cuba and Its Music". Cedar Crest College.
  3. ^ Urfé, Odilio 1965. El danzón. La Habana.
  4. ^ Chasteen, John Charles 2004. National rhythms, African roots: the deep history of Latin American popular dance. Albuquerque, N.M. Chapter 5.
  5. ^ Carpentier, Alejo 2001 [1945]. Music in Cuba. Minneapolis MN. p191
  6. ^ Failde, Osvalde Castillo 1964. Miguel Faílde: créador musical del Danzón. Consejo Nacional de Cultura, La Habana. In 1998, the province Matanzas held a festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Danzón.
  7. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. p50
  8. ^ Giro, Radamés 2007. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. La Habana. p281
  9. ^ Jorrín, Enrique 1971. Origen del chachachá. Signos 3, 49.
  10. ^ Cuban rhythms are usually scored in 2/4 time, whereas in North America the music would typically be scored in 4/4. This does not affect the sense of the text.
  11. ^ Laird, Walter 2003. The Laird Technique of Latin Dancing. International Dance Publications Ltd.
  12. ^ The "one, two, cha-cha-cha" rhythm variant was popularized by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra's Tea For Two Cha Cha(1958), and is arguably the correct timing when dancing to such arrangements.
  13. ^ Cristobal Diaz offers 1885: "el bolero, creado aproximadamente para 1885". Diaz Ayala, Cristobal 1999. Cuando sali de la Habana 1898-1997: cien años de música cubana por el mundo. 3rd ed, Cubanacán, San Juan P.R. p24-25
  14. ^ Carpentier, Alejo 2001 [1945]. Music in Cuba. Minneapolis MN.
  15. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. p195.
  16. ^ Orovio, Helio 1995. El bolero latino. La Habana.
  17. ^ Loyola Fernandez, Jose 1996. El ritmo en bolero: el bolero en la musica bailable cubana. Huracan, Rio Piedras P.R.
  18. ^ Orovio, Helio 1992. 300 boleros de oro. Mexico City.
  19. ^ Restrepo Duque, Hernán 1992. Lo que cantan los boleros. Columbia.
  20. ^ Rico Salazar, Jaime 1999. Cien años de boleros: su historia, sus compositores, sus mejores interpretes y 700 boleros inolvidables. 5th ed, Bogotá.
  21. ^ Rainsford, Sarah (20 April 2012). "Cuban ballet school turns 50". BBC. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  22. ^ (in Spanish) La Escuela Nacional de Ballet Archived 2009-06-23 at the Wayback Machine - La Escuela desarrolla una experiencia única en el mundo, enmarcada en la Batalla de Ideas.
  23. ^ Angert, Erica (2001). "The State of Dance Research in Cuba". Dance Research Journal. 33 (1): 82–87. doi:10.2307/1478858. ISSN 0149-7677. JSTOR 1478858. S2CID 191386487.
  24. ^ Tomé, Lester (2013). "Review of Cuban Ballet". NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids. 87 (1/2): 210–212. doi:10.1163/22134360-12340036. ISSN 1382-2373. JSTOR 24713471.
  25. ^ Fairley, Jan (2006). "Dancing Back to Front: Regeton, Sexuality, Gender and Transnationalism in Cuba". Popular Music. 25 (3): 471–488. doi:10.1017/S026114300600105X. ISSN 0261-1430. JSTOR 3877667. S2CID 144593193.

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