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“The Rhythm of Havana: The Importance of Salsa and Ballet in Cuban Culture” – Shelby Calambokidis

For my project, I plan to research how the different types of dance in Cuba exemplify different elements of Cuban culture. Specifically, I am going to study Salsa dance at a personal level, in the streets and its role in Cuban nightlife and cultural expression, as well as the Cuban National Ballet. The Salsa is the most popular dance in Cuba and is a vital part of the music and energy that defines Cuba.

Unlike the Cuban National Ballet, Salsa is not professionally practiced but rather is something done in Cuban’s free time and is a form of personally expressing one’s self. In Cuban Salsa, the emphasis is on sexual interplay between a man and a woman as well as everyday experience. The ballet in Cuba is a mix of Cuban sensuality and classical techniques combining French, English, and Russian techniques.

            Dance legend Alicia Alonso and her husband have been directing the National Ballet of Cuba since 1959 with the support of Fidel Castro. She is almost 90 years old and is blind but continues to teach. It is said she believes that Cubans were meant to dance because of their racial diversity and the fact that the Spanish and African races both love the art of dance. While Salsa is a result of the fusion of the different cultures that make Cuba, Ballet was influenced by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and their style as well as their methods of training reflects this relationship. Children are hand picked at an early age to receive free training modeled after the Soviet system. While Ballet was influenced by the Soviet Union during Cold War Years, Cuban salsa developed without outside influence, partly due to the Cuban Embargo. I look forward to discovering more ways in which dance is influenced politically, economically, and socially.

            Salsa dancing is a part of Cuba, but ballet is a form of dance that is professionally practiced all over the world. Therefore, Cuban dancers are often offered positions in other international companies. I also want to research how the Cubans feel what they think about the fact they are being robbed of their talent and dancers that they have classically trained for free since a young age.  Joining foreign companies is a huge incentive for dancers because the Cuban National Ballet pays about $50 a month. Overall, I want to be able to learn everything about the importance of Salsa dance in cultural and personal expression in Havana as well as the national significance of formal expressions such as Ballet.