My biggest takeaway and the most impactful aspect of the African American Dance Company’s trip to Santiago de Cuba was not dance moves, not technique, not choreography, but dance’s ties to culture and spirituality. The moment we arrived the essence of the people and the land’s history penetrated our tired bodies and attitudes. There’s no other choice but to smile, open up, and absorb the energy emanating from the rocks, the vegetation, the people, and the way of life. No matter how long the day was, how difficult the situations, or how grueling the dance studio got, there was always a drive to give our best. It was a sort of call and response. The land and the people were calling and sending surges of energy that we were responding to.
To the African American Dance Company and its current members this trip could not have come at a better time. We are all in transition. Uncertainty of the future was at the back of our minds. I recently received my terminal degree as an artist and heading into the world. Members are graduating or unable to continue dancing with the group. And after over forty years with the company, our founding director will be leaving the position. It’s always a hard time for the dance company when the semester ends and the family disbands. But time and time again, this family finds a way to reconnect and tell the world our stories and the stories of people before us.
During the trip we had the chance to visit El Cobre, a copper mining town, but also a Catholic church and the biggest Oshun shrine in Cuba. Growing up Filipino Roman Catholic, it felt like home to enter the church. But the combination of Spanish and African influences was still apparent. The smells, the people, the atmosphere all felt very familiar. I asked the priest to bless wooden souvenir figurines I bought for myself and for my mother, and then he blessed me. We offered bundles of bright yellow sunflowers and we all took our time to sit and reflect.
Many of us had emotional and spiritual reactions to the experience. It felt like we, like I, was suppose to be there. Doubts and uncertainties managed to melt away. We walked away from that place with a renewed perspective and hopeful for a beginning.
— Kelvin Burzon, IU graduate, M.F.A. in Photography
The day at the beach was very relaxing and well needed. The waves were calm and the people were in tune with each other. However, once AADC touched the sand, all eyes were immediately on us. Then when we started dancing, cameras were on us, too. The feeling was kind of weird having so many people staring while we’re on the beach, like it was one of our performances, but we quickly got used to it.
While on the beach we started engaging with the people and using basic Spanish to just get to know each other. After we met some new friends, we started taking pictures and sharing the memories we made in Cuba. We also met some people from different countries that were stopping through Cuba before going to Jamaica. They were from Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. It was great sharing with them about the dance company and them telling us about their travels. The day at the beach was a great way to spend our last day in Cuba.
— Jasmine Jenkins, IU Junior studying Community Health, Pre-Med