I must thank Professor Emerita Iris Rosa so much for organizing this important trip and sharing her global relationships in the arts and academia with us all. Thank you for teaching a great dance workshop, dancing with everyone everyday in the master classes, and sharing your amazing choreography, “Anatomy of Freedom,” in Cuba via the African American Dance Company! A special thanks for modeling the importance of documenting and sharing the sights and sounds of this historic IU delegation to Cuba.
I did not notice the projected image in the background of this photo until just now—nearly 2 weeks after this opening ceremony performance that we attended at the Fiesta del Fuego in Santiago de Cuba. I was so mesmerized by the dancers, the whirling colors of their skirts, head wraps, intricate choreography and body language, uniquely African/Caribbean poise and sassiness…the music, and the charming morphing of a laborious harvest task transformed into a beautiful dance…that I did not take my eyes off the stage. Thank goodness for photographers!
The image in the background, although I have not seen this specific one, is eerily similar to others where enslaved African people of all ages suffered unspeakable atrocities. See the ominous solo door below the “big house”? Forced to work to build the world’s wealth. Of those held in bondage and tortured there, their stolen labor and intense pain also gave birth to the unsurpassed creativity and cultural memory preserved in the dance and music folkloric traditions we were able to be immersed in through this wonderful study travel experience.
Just look at the beauty, pride, and commitment of their extended family-descendants on the festival stage paying homage to these ancestors’ sacrifice and telling this history by preserving and presenting cultural traditions of a resilient people (just as the African American Arts Institute was created to do!). These cultural arts legacies that we witnessed and connected with, exemplify to me, the resistance, defiance, commitment, survival, and victory over inhumane treatment and even attempted genocide, through brilliant artistic expression and a refusal to be erased. Like physical griots, the dancers, singers, drummers, and other musicians curate centuries and generations of overcoming, sustaining, and honoring the strength and importance of our people and our ancestral roots in Africa.
‘Thank you’ is inadequate to express my feelings about our shared experience with other scholars, artists, and global citizens affirming the richness of Afro-Caribbean contributions to the world. #AADCLegacy
— Vickie Casanova Willis, African American Dance Company and IU alumna
One thing I think that is important to speak on in regards to this trip overall is the overwhelming sense of spirituality many of us felt while being here. Over the course of this trip, a number of participants experienced various spiritual happenings that they were not necessarily anticipating. There is energy in the Cuban people, in the air, the music, the movement that energizes one’s internal monologue and consciousness.
I, personally, can identify specific instances that shook me spiritually. Seeing “Sulkary” performed by Danza del Caribe, visiting El Cobre, and ultimately deciding to have a reading done in the Ifa/Santeria tradition were stand out moments, however, the entire trip has been incredibly cleansing in both a physical and mental sense. I had been feeling a disconnect with my spirituality, and this trip came at a perfect time. I truly hope to bring some of this incredible energy back with me to the states and always remember the magic that is this special country.
— Alex Long, African American Dance Company and IU alumna