Cuban inspiration

I usually write about things I have experienced or felt. I share what I find important and helpful in learning Latin dancing.

My holistic approach to teaching is about not only taking care of the physical, mental, and spiritual aspect of the dancer but also about ways to gain and expand my knowledge as an instructor. I feel a constant need to improve my knowledge in various fields - dance, psychology, musicology, the history of dance, Latin-American culture. I thoroughly analyse what I am going to learn and experience to make the best use of this knowledge when working with dancers.

Cuba restored my faith in a dance that triggers the best thing that lies within us - the joy of life. My personal relationship with this country started in February 2014. The factor that encouraged me to visit Havana was a one-week workshop organised by Barbara Nagoda Ambroz, a dance instructor from Slovenia. Cuban Experience was a project that brought two cultures - Western and Latin American - together. The outcome of a series of training sessions where Cuban dancers and ballroom dancers met was a performance in a theatre in Havana, where both dance forms were presented to the public. The integration of both styles bore fruit in the form of a shared interpretation of dances such as rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo, or salsa. I have visited Cuba alone a couple of times as well. Each such trip was an opportunity for me to take part in individual dance classes - and practice and learn more about such styles as danzón, son, rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo, salsa. I’ve also had a consultation with Dr. Olavo Alen Rodriguez, musicologist. I’ve expanded my knowledge about Orishas dancing.

I believe that the physical world is a mirror of our emotional and spiritual world. Certain thoughts trigger certain feelings and emotions, which affect the reality outside when set in motion. Our external world depends on our inner world. What did my stay in Cuba change in my inner world? A lot. It changed my way of looking at and teaching Latin dances.
To me, Cuba is mostly about dance, music, and simple life. It’s a place where the local totalitarian system hasn’t suppressed the Latin joy; where African and European motifs merge with each other in different areas of life - in dancing and music, for instance. I was enchanted by Cuba - and by Cubans, who managed to remain open and very proud people despite the surrounding poverty and harsh living conditions. When I travelled around the island, they showed me it was possible to live differently. That you can be present here and now, make the most of every moment of your life, be thankful for what each day brings and accept the difficulties and obstacles of life as they are. Cuba has definitely rebuilt my soul. The Cuban inspirations I make use of in my teaching come mostly from the Cuban way of feeling and accepting one’s own body. Cubans seem to be more present in their bodies than Westerners. They appear to be more aware of the centre of gravity located in the pelvis. They are more connected to earth, which makes it possible for energy to flow through their bodies more freely. This is why their bodies are more flexible, their movements - more agile. They are able to feel and interpret the music with every part of their body.

This connection to earth and the sense of ‘anchorage’ may have to do with the concept of Mother Earth, who lets them survive each next day when they take full advantage of her fruit. An important thing here is the ability to accept one’s own body and sexuality. The Cuban ‘no shame’ approach makes their movements natural and full of grace. Latin dancing is based mainly on the movement of the pelvis - a movement full of life and joy. What I tend to see among dancers from our culture is a pelvis full of tension, guilt, shame. It took me a while to appreciate the role of the pelvis. What helped was my stay in Cuba and the hours spent on dancing with locals. The pelvis has a big impact on our sense of balance and on the lightness of our movements. It connects the upper part and the lower part of the body, enabling the flow of energy and the continuity of movement. The pelvis is a source of real power, inner energy, vitality, which can be seen really well among Cubans, especially women. A woman who moves her hips appears to be cheerful, grounded in the surrounding reality, at inner peace with herself, free, independent. In our culture, the awareness of the role of the pelvis is still small. The understanding of the amount of joy this part of the body carries has given me a new quality of life and dancing.
Self-acceptance makes Cubans at ease with themselves. They don’t tend to brag, show off, or compete with each other just to prove who’s better. This attitude is noticeable during dance events, where tourists showcasing their skills and abilities look for approval from the outside, among the onlookers. Cubans, in turn, enjoy dancing with their partners, they look for pleasure in the interaction with their partners. Their dancing is about fun, action and reaction, about energy flowing between the dancing couple. Connection and creativity are the main features of their way of dancing. A Cuban doesn’t mind being led by their partner. A Cuban listens to the partner’s inner voice. A Cuban adapts, adjusts themselves to their partner to eliminate their own weakness and bring out some of their own strength. In both life and dance, Cubans seek communication with the other. Eye contact plays a big part here. After all, eyes are the mirror of the soul. Looking into the souls of others is a very Cuban thing to do. And when Cubans engage in something, they are fully committed to it.
The qualities that can best describe a Cuban dancer are grace, charm, inner strength, courage to follow one’s intuition and instincts, creativity, connection with one’s body, music, and partner. These are the qualities I seek to awaken in my students. I’m fascinated by the softness and quickness of movement of Cuban dancers, by how they play and interact with the rhythm and the partner. By their musicality, their sensitivity to sound. I admire their ability to be present here and now, their commitment, and their great passion for dancing.

Their strong connection with themselves makes them able to draw energy from intuition and instincts. I think that Cubans are driven mainly precisely by intuition, while we, Westerners, tend to be driven by intellect. But it is usually intuition that gives life to art and love…