6 Dances that Come from Cuba
Cuban dance comes from a mix of Spanish, French, and African musical influences coming together to make something unique.
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The number of dances that originated in Cuba seems endless. From Mambo to Tango to Salsa to Bolero, I could go on and on about Cuban dances. The point is, even if you don't love dance, you need to see at least one performance while you're in Cuba. And if you do love dance, be sure to soak it all in. See as many performances as you can and take some lessons with local professionals. Here are just six of the Cuban dances you'll encounter to give you a taste of this rich tradition.
Born in the ballrooms of Havana and Matanzas, Cuba's national dance is the root of many other Cuban dances. Traditional danzon is an elegant and delicate ballroom dance for couples, but over time it has become a more exuberant version of itself. Modern, up-tempo versions are known as danzonete and danzon-cha. Danzon songs are all made up of two sections: a four-bar paseo and sixteen-bar melody. During the paseo, dancers do not dance. They stroll about the dance floor, chat, flirt, drink...whatever, but on that first beat of the melody, they're all dancing again.
Rumba has roots in the rhythmic drumming of the Santeria religion. Ex-slaves began dancing the Rumba in the 1890s when they would spend Sunday (the day of rest) playing familiar rhythms from home and sometimes adding vocals. Rumba is informal and spontaneous. Listen to the congas, claves, palitos (sticks), and marugas (iron shakers) and groove.
This is another early Cuban dance. At first, all son bands were a sextet made up of two singers (who also play maracas and claves), a tres, a guitar, bongos, and a double bass. In the 1930s the trumpet was added. In the 1940s and 1950s these grew into big bands with full percussion and horn sections. Son combined with Rumba in Havana to birth salsa dancing. Son is an energetic Cuban dance, characterized by precise footwork and dramatic pauses.
The first worldwide Cuban dance craze is a direct descendent of danzon. Trumpets and saxophones riff and wail lending their energy to this loose, fun dance style that is all hips, shoulders, and attitude. The mambo king is without a doubt Benny More who was born in the Cienfuegos of Cuba. No one can dance the mambo quite like the Cuban people.
Salsa is a new dance that emerged from New York City in the 1960s and 1970s as a fun blend of son, rumba, and jazz. Over the years, salsa has continued to evolve, adding elements of reggaeton, rap, and hip-hop. Although a popular Cuban dance, Salsa is popular all over the world and there is a strong salsa culture throughout Latin America. Its easy to find salsa dance classes in the U.S. so you could easily learn a few steps before your trip.
Hip-Hop and Rap
Rap first made its way to Cuba in the 1980s from Miami radio stations whose signals reached the island. These broadcasts exposed the Cuban youth to American hip hop artists, like Biggie Smalls and Talib Kweli. It didn't take long for the youth to embrace this pair of genres. Cuban hip-hop has a decidedly different feel from American hip-hop. Elements of salsa and rumba are evident in the dance moves and the music is rich with the sounds of congas, bata drums, and electric bass. Hip-hop and rap bands are taking on the big issues of our time like the stagnant Cuban economy; you cant ignore the element of politics in this new Cuban dance music.