Mind, Body & Soul: Cuban Culture – Back to the Roots by Ana Llorente
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Back to the Roots
The encounter with the Ballroom World
When I initiated my dance career in the Beautiful elegant Ballroom world, I found a lot of challenges. Being a Cuban born, Havana Raised and graduating from the most successful dance school ENA National School of Art, Modern Dance and Afro-Cubanm floklore, I was expected to be able to put together the ethnic original feeling, that I will always love, with what I was learning by studying the International Latin and American Rhythm styles. I was told I danced, either too mechanical, technical and inexpressive or too “social looking”. It was hard to find the concept of bringing the real Cuban dancing into the Ballroom World without altering too much the requirements and the elegance.
After so many years of struggling with it, I have come to conclude that only by adding the correct PERCENTAGE can the blend merge into competitive success.
The questions I have learned to ask myself over the years, firstly as a student, then a competitor and now a teacher are:
How much percentage of technicalities and how much percentage of authenticity can you have in your dance routine or social dancing?
How to achieve the blend and how to find a formula that as a teacher I can clearly explain to the students whether it being competitive or Social Dances like the Cha Cha Cha, Mambo, International or American Rumba, the Bolero and even the Samba without degenerating the style?
The Cuban Motion
I researched the terminology of Cuban motion and it came out as a rhythmic swaying of the hips caused by the bending and straightening of the knees. This is used in all types of Latin Dancing in the Ballroom or Salsa World, Social or Competitive.
It cut my attention how many different concepts and explanations I found out there and how dancers are continuously seeking the essence of this movement neglecting to refer to the only legitimate information, in order to actually be able to achieve it!
In every country I visited, every lesson or workshop I taught, each social party I went to and after each competition and show I had all kinds of people and even World Dance Champions coming and asking me “How do you do that”? How can you be able to move so natural and smoothly? What makes your dancing different, how can you use the proper technique and have the feeling, achieve the proper communication and essence of the dance and combine it with the difficulty of the steps?
How come you do not look mechanical? How do you connect with your partner or the audience? Can you teach me styling of the arms or facial expressions?
I believe that before you have the motivation to learn Cuban Motion, you first need to have an experience that makes you think “wow, yes, I want it to always feel like that”. “I want to move like the Cubans do” but is not about looking like the Cubans, it is about feeling that way.
Naturally our body wants to do the Cuban motion correctly.
Have you noticed when you lead a woman that never danced before that sometimes they naturally move their hips in the correct way? Then you think she is very natural dancer. That is how we dance in Cuba. Cubans dance very natural and our bodies move like that without forcing it. That does not mean that you are not supposed to do the correct technique.
Most importantly for me, the concept of Cuban motion goes way beyond just moving your hips and knees. It involves so much more! Cubans are the only Latinos that move EVERY part of their bodies when they dance.
In order for you to learn the entire nature of the Cuban Motion we should first refer to the concept of Afro Cuban and how it started and developed into the Popular dances like The Rumba, Cha Cha Cha, Bolero, Salsa, Son, Mambo, Danzon and many more.
I would encourage dancers to try to learn and experience the movements in order to be able to bring it into their dancing Vocabulary.[section label=”Afrocubanism” anchor=”afrocubanism”]
What is it?
Is the establishment of a new form of Art that used aesthetics and influences from both Spanish and African culture giving birth to the Cuban traditional dances.
Some of the most Traditional popular dances are :
The Cha Cha Cha, Bolero, Rumba, Mambo, Salsa, Son and Danzon.
What is Syncretization?
African slaves were brought to Cuba in colonial times. They were not allowed to openly practice their African religions and were forced by the Spanish conquers to convert to Catholicism and show at least outward appearances of practicing the faith. Behind the Catholicism, African slaves kept their old religions alive syncretizing (commingle, combine ) their deities with Christian saints. They knew that the Virgin of Love was not really their Oshun but they saw some similarities between the two of them, which allowed them to secretly worship Oshun, whilst appearing to worship the catholic Virgin. The union or reconciliation of this two religions is called SYNCRETISM .
This African deities are called ORISHAS
The African Orishas
The Orishas are the deities of the Afro-Cuban religion known in Cuba as Santeria. Santeria is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba mythology from Nigeria.
They are the emissaries of God that rule over the forces of nature and recognize themselves through their different dances, chanting, costumes, personalities and colors, which are their marks. By looking at the forces of nature they rule over, you will better understand their attitudes and how they move.
As you observe the Orishas at work in the world and in your own lives you will gain a better understanding of them and their ways. They are complex, but no more so than any other living being such as you or I.
Each Orisha has their own music, chanting, colors, meaning, symbols and personalities.
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Theatricalization of the Cuban Folklore
To theatricalize means to put into dramatic or theatrical form, to dramatize, express or represent in a spectacular or extravagantly histrionic manner.
The Orishas dance and chant impersonating the forces of nature and using the colors, accessories, props, attitudes and movements of the forces they represent in Nature.
The main movements of their dances initiates in the center of their bodies, on the diaphragm area and that’s how they project to the world.
Oshún is the Orisha that rules over the sweet waters of the world, the rivers and the streams.Hers is the power of sweetness in life, and all of the things that make life worth living.
She is the goddess of Love, seduction and the sweet honey which she uses to heal, attract and sweeten men embodying fertility.
The Goddess of all yellow metals like Gold. That’s why she wears this colors and tons of jewelry in her arms and neck.
Peacocks and vultures are hers. She dances with a fan and sometimes offers honey to the men as a symbol of sweetness.
Shango or Chango
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This Orisha represents male beauty and virility, passion and power.
Changó (Shangó) owns the fire, lightning, thunder and war, but he is also the patron of music, drumming, and dancing.
He’s proud, fierce, brave, a magnificent warrior, intelligent, hardworking and, above all, he likes to be acknowledged as the leader .
His colors are red and white, also a great womanizer, and a bit of a libertine. He is known for his ability to procreation. He seduces with his charm and his lies.
The dances of Shango usually are erotic or warrior like. He dances with an ax to defeat his enemies or reaching out to the power of lightning and bringing it into his pelvis area to enhance his strength and virility.
In 1985 the Cuban Minister of Culture stated that “rumba without Cuba is not rumba, and Cuba without rumba is not Cuba.
Cuban Rumba Is a genre of Cuban Music that involves dancing, percussion, and song that originated mainly in the Urban Havana and Matanzas during the late 19th century.
It is the combination from drumming and dances from Spain like the Rumba Flamenca, Gipsy poetry andthe strong beats from Africa.
It used to be performed by poor workers of African descent in streets and solares (courtyards). Now the Rumba can be found everywhere in Cuba, on the corner, on a Sunday afternoon, when a group of friends get together and beat out the rhythm on the chairs, or on the domino table; in a patio of Havana or Matanzas, in the crowded poor neighborhood housing, in a dance school or in any a restaurant , theater or Cabaret show.
They are various styles of Cuban Rumba. The Genre encompasses Three Traditional forms of Rumba
Yambu, Guaguanco, Columbia
First dance of the Rumba cycles: Yambu
Yambu is the slowest of all the Rumba dance styles.
When there is a Rumba bembe (party), musicians always start playing Yambu as the first dance of the cycle.
It is traditionally danced by an older couple dancing apart.
Sometimes they incorporate the cane as prop on their dance.
When a young couple dances Yambu they imitate the movements of the elderlies, soft-edged and sensual rather than sexual.
In the Yambu they do not use the “VACUNAO” which brings us to the next style in the Cycle that uses it.
Second dance in the Rumba Cycles: Guaguango
Guaguanco is the most popular and influential rumba style. Is always danced by a couple.
Guaguancó is a dance of sexual competition between the male and female.
The guys tease the women, and the women protect themselves with their scarves and defend themselves from being seduced by the men.
Vacunao: The female seductively moves her upper and lower body in contrary motion and holding the ends of her skirt, “opens” and “closes” it in rhythm with the music.
The male tries to distract her with fancy (often counter-metric) steps, accented by the quinto drum, until he is in position to surprise her with a single thrust of his pelvis.
This erotic movement is called the vacunao (‘vaccination’ or ‘injection’),
The vacunao can also be expressed by the men with a sudden gesture of the hand or foot. The female reacts by quickly turning away, bringing the ends of her skirts together, or covering her groin area with her hand (botao), symbolically blocking the “injection.
Third dance of the Rumba Cycles: Columbia
Only one man dances at a time inside the circle. Men usually compete with other men to display their agility, strength, confidence and even sense of humor.
Columbia incorporates many movements derived from all the African and Orishas dances, as well as Spanish flamenco, contemporary , breakdancing or hip Hop in the modern times. This will make them shine over their competitors.
There is an interaction between the Quinto drum and the dancer. Dancers perform extravagant footwork that follow the drum and vice-versa.
The quinto player must be able to switch phrases immediately in response to the dancer’s ever-changing steps. The quinto vocabulary is used to accompany, inspire and in some ways, compete with the dancers’ spontaneous choreography.
Ana LLorente started her dance career in Havana, where she graduated with Honors from the Cuban National School of Arts specializing in Contemporary Dance and Afro-Cuban Folklore. Her extensive training and dedication gave her the opportunity to win a scholarship in Choreography at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA. This scholarship, coming from a USA based institution, was a completely unique opportunity for a Cuban citizen residing in the island. The “UNEAC“ Cuban National institution of Writers and Artists also gave her a recognition as the best performer and choreographer in the country at the most important and only invitational Dance Competition in Havana. ”
Today, she is dedicating her talents entirely to the Ballroom World and all types of Latin dance and competitive instruction. She has been invited to perform around the world at several World Championships: Greece, Italy, Japan, Canada, USA, European Championship, England, Hong Kong, Holland, Ireland and France.
Also she has taken part as a dancer and choreographer in many internationally televised programs like:
“Ballroom in Concert” (Vienna, Austria), “Ballroom Fever” (City Center, New York), Miss Venezuela International”, Dance Yuma Factory” in Japan, America’s Got Talent, ”Unforgettable Boleros with Ricardo Montalban, “Heritage DanceSport Championships” with Cyd Charisse , PBS Television Special for USA Dancesport Championships and First World Mambo Competition, International Dance Festival (Vail, Colorado) ,CNN USA Dance news, Vail International Dance Festival, “Sabado Gigante”, “Mira Quien Baila”, Univision TV Channel, Millenium Dancesport Championships.
MTV videos for: Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Will Smith, Julio Iglesias, Chayanne, Vanessa Williams, Gipsy Kings in Concert,Julio Iglesias, famous Latin singer Johnny Ventura and she was the principal dancer of “Dirty Dancing”#2 movie : “Havana Nights”. ”
Ana has won numerous National and International Dance honors and titles. She is:
- World Mambo Champion
- Argentine Tango World finalist
- Theater Arts and Adagio Champion at Blackpool (Biggest Competition in the world)
- USA, World and Canadian American Rhythm Champion.
- Ana is a proud representative of Cuba in the WDC ( World Dance Council ) and is currently the Organizer of the Cuba International Ballroom Championships in Havana, Cuba.
Teaching, coaching and lecturing in renowned Ballroom, Performing Arts and Salsa Conventions all around USA and the world, Ana is well known for bringing a real and authentic Latin flavor to the Dance World along with her understanding of modern choreography and its application to the body.