**Dance Encompasses All Movement That Expresses or Enhances Spiritual Experiences.**
Afro-Cuban dances occupies central place in cultures throughout the world, embodying energy and a graceful beauty flowing with rhythm. Afro-Cuban dance is connected to Africa’s rich musical traditions. Afro-Cuban dance has a unity of aesthetic and logic that is evident even in the dances within the African Diaspora. To understand this logic, it is essential to look deeper into the elements that are common to the dances in the various cultures from West Africa & Cuba.
Traditional Afro-Cuban Dances: Ritual dance – Ancestral worship – Ritual dances to connect to the divine Ceremonial dance – Communal dances – Essence of African dance – Modern dance – Dance clubs…
Dance has always been an indispensable element of life in Afro-Cuban society, binding together communities and helping individuals to understand their roles in relation to the community. In spiritual rituals, dance helps people to understand and remember their role in relation to the divine. Dance in social ceremonies has helped keep community life vibrant, contributing to a sense of security, safety and continuity.
Traditional Afro-Cuban dance is an essential element of Africa’s cultural heritage, providing a vital expression of the region’s philosophy, and the living memory of its cultural wealth and its evolution over the centuries. Because it has more power than gesture, more eloquence than word, more richness than writing and because it expresses the most profound experiences of human beings, dance is a complete and self sufficient language. It is the expression of life and of its permanent emotions of joy, love, sadness, hope, and without emotion there is no Afro-Cuban Dance.
Afro-Cuban Dances are as varied and changing as the communities that create them. Although many types of Afro-Cuban dance incorporate spirited, vigorous movement, there are also others that are more reserved or stylized. Afro-Cuban dances vary widely by region and ethnic community. In addition, there are numerous dances within each given community. At the same time, there is a great deal of similarity in the role dance plays in each Afro-Cuban community. Dances play a role in religious rituals, they form a part of communal ceremonies and social club dances.
** To a great extent there is no formal distinction drawn between sacred and secular, religious and non-religious, spiritual or material. In many African languages there is no word for religion, because a person’s life is a total embodiment of his or her philosophy. By extension, sacred rituals are integral part of daily African-Cuban life. They are interwoven with every aspect of human endeavor, from the profound to the mundane. From birth to death, every transition in an individual’s life is marked by some form of ritual observance.
Ritual Dances To Connect To The Divine: Many Afro-Cuban dances are the means by which individuals relate to Ancestors and other Divinities. Whatever the motivation of the dance, it combines the expression of human feeling with the higher aspirations of man to communicate with the Cosmos.
Ceremonial Dance: Although ceremonial or cultural functions are more commemorative and transient than rituals, they are still important. Although the basic rhythms and movements remain, the number of dancers, formations and other elements change to fit the situation. Dances appear as parts of broader cultural activities. They give confidence to the dancers who have to perform in front of everyone. This builds pride, as well as a stronger sense of community. Dances of Welcome are a show of respect and pleasure to visitors, and at the same time provide a show of how talented and attractive the host performers are. They all share one common link: “A call to a Spirit” These spirits can be the spirits of Plants or Forests, Ancestors or Deities.
These traditions and stories are kept in the form of music and dance, containing elements of history or metaphorical statements that carry and pass on the culture of the people through the generations.
Communal Dances: Traditionally, dance in Africa & Cuba occurs collectively in a community setting. It expresses the life of the community more than the mood of an individual or a couple. The sound and the rhythm of the drum express the mood of the people. The drum is the sign of life; its beat is the heartbeat of the community. Such is the power of the drum to evoke emotions, to touch the souls of those who hear its rhythms. In an Afro-Cuban community, coming together in response to the beating of the drum is an opportunity to give one another a sense of belonging and of solidarity. It is a time to connect with each other, to be part of that collective rhythm of the life in which young and old, rich and poor, men and women are all invited to contribute to the society.
Dancing At A Community Gathering: Dances mark key elements of communal life. Dance does not merely form a part of community life; it represents and reinforces the community itself. Its structures reproduce the organization and the values of the community. Dances provide community recognition for the major events in people’s lives. The basic formation of Afro-Cuban dance is in lines and circles; dances are performed by lines or circles of dancers. There is supernatural power in the circle, the curved, and the round. “Let the circle be unbroken” is a popular creed throughout. More complex shapes are formed through the combination of these basic forms, to create more sophisticated dance forms and style.
The Afro-Cuban dancers often bends slightly toward the earth and flattens the feet against it in a wide, solid stance. In Afro-Cuban dances, gravity provides an earthward orientation even in those forms in which dancers leap into the air. A rhythmic communication occurs between the dancers – the drums and the chorus in Afro-Cuban dances. The give-and-take dynamic found in African-Cuban traditions all over the world reflects the rhythmic communication among dancers, music, and audience found in traditional Afro-Cuban dance. More skillful dancers might express several different rhythms at the same time, for example by maintaining a separate rhythmic movement with each of several different parts of the body. Rhythm frequently forms a dialogue between dancers, musicians, and audience.
Afro-Cuban dances move all parts of the body. Angular bending of arms, legs, and torso; shoulder and hip movement; scuffing, stamping, and hopping steps; asymmetrical use of the body; and fluid movement are all part of Afro-Cuban dance. It is a medium that embodies the experiences of life, pleasure, enjoyment, and sensuality.
The body of the Afro-Cuban dancer overflows with joy and vitality, it trembles, vibrates, radiates, it is charged with emotions. No matter what shape a dancer is thick or thin, round or svelte, weak or muscled, large or small his/her emotions are not repressed and stifled, as long as the rational does not restrict his/her movements, but allows the irrational, which directs the true language of the body, to assert itself, the body becomes joyous, attractive, vigorous, and magnetic…
Reference Sources: Cojunto Nacional Cuba = Afro-Cuba Matanzas = Google Search/Photo =