Rescuing Cuban Dance Traditions

Jorge Milanes

The Marqueses de la Víbora dancing Casino.

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, a great many teenagers and young people – and even those who are not so young – prefer to listen and dance to reggaeton music instead of casino, a dance tradition that is part of our identity. For a very long time, casino was Cuba’s popular dance par excellence. It evolved out of danzon, son, rumba, guaganco and cha cha cha. It was perhaps with the intention of depriving it of its identity that it was re-baptized as salsa music.

Dance is one of the bodily expressions that make men and women feel free, for it is something genuine that comes from the soul, the spirit. Dancing in general helps us let go of stress and, among other things, to keep the body and mind in shape.

I have always enjoyed dancing a lot. I recall that, from 1978 and 1982, there was a game show on Cuban television called Para bailar (“Dance Music”). It was aimed at preserving and divulging Cuban dance and music traditions. Couples would compete in weekly, monthly, trimestral and semester selections, and there was a special Para bailar on New Year’s.

The awards they gave out were very impressive: a cruise on a ship (called the Comandante Pinares), weekends at hotels, tours with music bands or in several East European countries and even the opportunity to participate at international ballroom dance events. These awards encouraged young people from around the island to participate in the dance competition.

Today, only the memory of this remains. Whenever someone attempts to put together a show with a similar premise they run into the well-known obstacles: either we shouldn’t encourage such competitiveness in the young or there’s simply no money for it. If it’s a question of budgets, we should put the awards and the socio-cultural impact they would have on the young in the balance. Many are already commercially-minded because of the context they were born into. Every week, they buy the “package”, a selection of foreign TV shows in DVD and other formats that someone downloads from the Internet and fits with ads for restaurants, clothing, photo studios and other businesses.

Cuban television either does not meet their expectations or they do not identify with the programming, even though there are some positive aspects when we compare it to other TV offers. Creating another game show with the same aims would give many young Cubans the opportunity to dance in front of the cameras for the entire world, and allow the organizers to find new talents that would have a significant cultural impact on society. It would encourage the re-discovery of casino among the young.

To incentivize the young, they must be offered more than simply participating in the show or artworks, T-Shirts, books and dog-collars. The prizes must include computers, cell phones, tablets, weekends at hotels and coupons for restaurants, among other things. There is no shortage of sponsors.

Only thus would many people compete and the show meet current demands, to become a true socio-cultural event.

One thought on “Rescuing Cuban Dance Traditions

  • As an African-American, I can tell you first-hand that if the Cuban dance culture is of lasting value, you don’t need to preserve it. African-Americans have given the world JAZZ and HIP-HOP music and the cultural underpinnings that go along with these music styles. There is no need for African-Americans to ‘preserve’ either of these cultural inventions. The world has seen value in each of them and they will be continued. If ‘casino’ style dance is worth preserving it will endure. If not, it will be like the “robot” dance of the 1970’s. Soon forgotten.

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