A performance of the island nation’s many dance styles
After 54 years of lingering Cold War tension, Americans have been traveling to Cuba in enthusiastic droves since President Obama lifted many tourism restrictions as part of the “Cuban thaw” in December 2014. Among the powerful lures to the island nation are its beauty and culture—as well as a gorgeous landscape and the colorful charm of its cities.
Like music and literature, dance is a big deal in Cuba, where many original styles reflect the country’s complex heritage, including its indigenous origins and its Iberian and African influences. Rumba—the Afro-Cuban genre that combines dance, percussion and song—began near the sugar mills in the late 1800s, around the time slavery was abolished. Mambo, which means “conversation with the gods” in the Central African language Kikongo, emerged in the late 1930s, evolved from the danzón—a slow fusion partner style that remains Cuba’s official dance (and music). The cha-cha-chá is also an offshoot of the danzón and its onomatopoeic name reflects the syncopated shuffle of the feet.
This November, award-winning company Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba visits Meany Theater at the University of Washington with a touring company of 20 dancers performing Cuba Vibra!, a collection of dance vignettes showcasing Afro-Cuban dance over the last 70 years. The vignettes include rumba, cha-cha-chá and mambo, as well as conga, bolero (not the same as the Spanish music, but another Cuban original) and others. Alfonso founded the company in 1991 as an all-female troupe, but the group includes men now, too. The dancers are known to be intensely skilled and exacting across this show’s wide variety of forms. The energy in the room will run high—and afterward you might find yourself booking a trip to Havana in the not-too-distant future.