At the beginning of our class with master Vogue dance artist and instructor Cesar Valentino (who was a guest artist at the dance company’s Annual Dance Workshop this year), he explained to us that Vogue dance had not reached Cuba. He said that most people he talked to here didn’t even know of Madonna and her song/music video “Vogue” that popularized the dance form in the 80s. This was especially surprising and eye-opening to me. It showed me that not everyone around the world has the technological privilege of even listening to current and popular music. We are so used to being able to search on YouTube at any moment for a song or style of dance. But here in Cuba, access to wifi is so scarce and expensive.
Valentino’s vogue class with Danza del Caribe, a professional Cuban dance company, was a wonderful yet exhausting experience. I noted that since everyone in the class had previous dance experience he did not hold back. He really pushed both companies to the max—which is what I came on this trip to experience. An important aspect to the vogue discipline entails wearing heels. I was so pleased to see the open-mindedness displayed specifically by the male dancer, Gracia, who wore high red heels.
It was a great satisfaction to see that around the world we are moving in a progressive direction. Lastly, I realized that all around the world dance can bring anyone together despite barriers as big as language.
— Jaylen Ray, IU Sophomore majoring in Contemporary Dance
The women sauntered onstage with large baskets held overhead, dressed in flowing white skirts. They gracefully sway as the drums begin pounding out a complicated but soothing rhythm. The men, also dressed in white and wide brim straw hats and sticks, join the women in concentric pattern, weaving in and out of each other. They bend over slightly as they push the end of the stick in a motion that reverberates through their bodies—torsos articulating the forceful and smooth movement.
The dance developed out of the enslaved people who were forced to work on coffee plantations. The sticks and baskets represent the coffee drying process in which the enslaved people would push the coffee with sticks. This performance by Ballet Folklorico de Oriente was powerful on many different levels including the ways in which it demonstrates the resistance embodied through dance. The transmutation of a violent, forced labor into a celebration of community and empowerment in spite of the white supremacist systems of oppression.
The Paolo performance (see video clip above) stands out, particularly in the intensity of expression. The dancers seemed to be on another planet. Watching the simultaneous grace and power, strength and vulnerability, control and release was overwhelming. It would take 20 pages to describe the entire piece but the one element that is especially etched in my mind was the dancers’ faces. The wide eyes, opened to the point that they almost bulge out of their faces. As they breathe, they fill their mouths with air and push their cheeks out.
This combination is difficult to convey in words. The experience of watching a collective of people embody absolute power made me feel both vulnerable and empowered. As the dance continued Shango took the stage, cigar puffing between his lips, eyes bulging, head shaking, executing smashing movement with the opposing but connected power, grace, release, and control that makes no sense to talk about but makes me cry.
— Amelia Smith, Ph.D. student in African American and African Diaspora Studies