Cuba and music. The two go together like rum and coke. We knew we would love the music and dancing vibe… but we didn’t realise quite how much.
I have danced for about 15 years, never specifically salsa, but thanks to my last dance partner Rob I can get by with a good lead. Dean had decided that if ever there was a time to learn, then Cuba would be it. So off we went with great expectations and sometimes these can be a bad thing. However in Cuba you can expect the world with the dancing and music scene, and you most certainly will not be disappointed.
Our first introduction came during a late afternoon stroll around Santa Clara . We stumbled across a band playing in the main plaza. The word stumble is probably a bit inaccurate really…… the band were creating quite a spectacle, which the salsa loving locals fully embraced and the square broke out into dance (Imagine a Cuban flash mob). Later that night the party shifted to the bandstand where a huge ensemble provided the entertainment. I spent all evening watching feet, working out how to make my steps look as good as those of the locals’.
We quickly learned this was just the beginning. Every city had its focal points, but sometimes the better music was just the impromptu affairs. In Trinidad there was a lovely little square where four men sat playing with a guitar, a set of drums and random other percussion. In Holguin the weekly Saturday street party literally got us dancing in the streets.
For me, the real musical highlight was Trinidad – a city that prides itself on the music scene. On a very hot and humid day we turned a corner to hear graceful tunes playing from Casa De Trova – a famed music hall. We looked at each other, and didn’t even have to say, ‘shall we go in’ – the decision was made. We spent a couple of mornings just listening to the band, and I even made friends with the band front man. Twice my age, he had more than twice as many salsa steps as me and I took great pleasure in following him around the stage. I think we got almost more claps than the professional teachers who were there…. Although I’m sure the claps were aimed in a, ‘oh she’s having a go’ way.
Arguably my favourite night in Cuba came when we went to the Casa Musica in Trinidad – if you only do one thing in Trinidad, then this should be it. At the top of a staired-terrace, the setting was perfect. Bands play day and night, and we set up camp on the front row. There were some simply AMAZING dancers there. During the evening we were joined by a Swiss lady who was learning to Salsa in town. She was very good by all accounts, and urged me to approach someone for a dance. I picked my song (and my strapping 6 foot Cuban) and not-so-confidently walked up and asked him to dance. In the ballroom world it is not the done thing. In the Cuban world anything goes! A couple of dances later and I felt proud of myself! Dancing under the moonlight at the Casa Muscia in Trinidad was something I will never forget.
In Baracoa we were treated to the dancing front man. With what looked like a tight-permed mullet, this all singing, all dancing Casanova could certainly move! He asked me for a Bachata, and made a beeline for me every time we were there. They played in a couple of different bars, each of them just as good. I’ve never danced at the same time as someone singing before, but I recommend it!
Not to be outdone Dean decided this was his chance to shine too, and shine he did. In Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba we took some salsa lessons. 123, 567 – he mastered it! Our challenge now is to keep it up. When no one was looking we would have a twirl, or when walking past a bar we would pick out the beat.
Our biggest bit of advice for Cuba is to keep your ears open and go with the music flow. More or less every lunch or drink stop was guided by where the music was playing. We might only have caught the end of a set but in some cases it was so good we had to have a second Pina Colada to wait for them to start again! Generally speaking after a session the basket came round, and if you wanted you could buy CDs. We bought a couple from our favourite bands, however everywhere else we put a few coins in the pot. I saw some people refuse, but for us it was a very small price to pay for the incredible entertainment and enjoyment it provided.
As for keeping up with the Cubans, I don’t think I ever looked quite as good, but I certainly gave it a good shot! No one will ever judge you or stop from trying in Cuba – so even if you only know some wedding dancing moves, get up there, have a go and join the fiesta!