Dancing away in Havana

After a few years of Salsa practice in hip-stiff Switzerland, we decided to join one of the Cuban dancing teachers at Salsa Rica, Ismaray, on a trip to Cuba. Ismaray is the kind of person who looks like she is dancing even while walking or writing an SMS :-). Body parts seem to be disconnected and movable at her will. Pretty much the opposite of me. Dancing, culture, and concerts were on the agenda. What a revelation. Looking at how the Cuban dance, at the joy, spontaneity, and energy produced on the dancefloor, we asked ourselves what we are doing wrong (and the Cubans most certainly did as well). When I started dancing Salsa about 3 years ago I had to overcome, over time, all kinds of things to feel comfortable. Things like pride, fear, emancipation, or sheer disbelief that my feet were made for anything else than, well, to carry my body. During that week in Havana, I was thrown back exactly to that time. Back to square one, so to speak.

We had four days of group classes three hours each morning. We left our home turf by looking into Afro-Cuban, Timba, Rumba, Son and Yambu with lovely and brutally honest Jenny. Jenny, a well-known professional dancer, tried hard to beat Switzerland out of us. She was sensual, flirty, female, secure and challenging.

Group lessons are great. But sometimes you want somebody to look at you specifically. So we decided to have a few private lessons. Yasuko started with Harold, a gentle, ever-patient Cuban dancer, among others with the National Folkloric Dance Group. He was an excellent teacher and even just watching him and Yasuko was interesting. Then with Yasuko, we decided to have a class together and asked Yuko-san, a Japanese dancer/singer who lives in Cuba for more than 15 years to join. Picture this. Yasuko and me doing simple pasitos and “dile que no”s Herold holding Yasuko’s hips to change her moves and Yuko-san holding mine. I was happy not to have more than an old man as an audience. It was a brutal back to square one. What we learned is that you do not make much of your upper body, you just move rib cage from left to right vice versa. Sounds easy, right?  Not really…

In the evenings, we typically went out dancing. Twice at the Casa de la Musica in Miramar. A well-known place where lots of famous musicians perform. For Yasuko and me it was a little too loud and the sound quality not honoring the musicians, unfortunately. It was a bit like mashing all together, rather than being able to hear the different instruments. But then there are lots of little bars with live music in Habana Vieja. Some a bit touristy, but mostly a nice venue to practice those pasitos again.

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