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Afro-Cuban Traditions

Traditional Popular

Created by Miguel Failde Pérez in 1879, Danzón is the national dance of Cuba and evolved from Danza. The music structure – A B A B A - consists of an introduction, A, just used for dancers to make acquaintance, flirt or stroll the dance floor. Then a dance section starts (B), to go back to the introduction and repeat the sequence again. The dance style is elegant yet extremely sensual and flavorful; it is danced off the beat and includes square figures.

Son is derived from Cuba's African and Spanish roots, and is the predecessor of what is now called salsa. Originally rural music that developed as an accompaniment to dancing, it became a popular in Cuba's urban areas in the 20th century. Eventually, it was adapted to modern instrumentation and larger bands. Traditional Son instrumentation could include the tres (a type of guitar with three sets of closely spaced strings), standard guitars and various hand drums and other percussion instruments. Many sons also include parts for trumpets and other brass instruments, due to the influence of American jazz.

Son, the dance, starts with the formal, closed embrace of the man and woman. The couple maintains a very upright frame, with quick flirtatious and sensual side-to-side movements of the shoulders, torso and hips accenting the underlying six count rhythm of the feet. Son is danced off the beat, so the couple moves on the half beat before one.

Cha Cha Cha
Cha Cha Cha arose in the early '50s as an offshoot of Danzon and Mambo, and was created by Enrique Jorrin – the original rhythm is onomatopoeia of the sound of the percussion and the one created by the dancer’s feet dragging on the ground. Cha-cha-cha is danced off beat (the dance starts on three quick changes of weight -- thus the name cha-cha-cha -- preceded by two slow and a pause). It was later adopted and commercialized by ballroom dancers who for teaching purposes (for those unable to identify the beat). A cha was dropped and it became only Cha-cha. In Cha Cha Cha, like mambo and rumba, the dancers' hips are relaxed, allowing free movement in the pelvic section.

Rumba de Salon/Cuban Ballroom Rumba
Rumba de Salon, or Cuban ballroom rumba, grew from folkloric rumba but with a strong influence from ballet techniques in order to commercialize the style (taking from its intricate hip patterns as created in the black neighborhoods). This already processed Rumba eventually derived into the even more commercialized Ballroom Rhumba version.

In the late 1940s, many North Americans -- especially those from the East Coast -- flocked to Havana, Cuba for their vacations, and the most famous U.S. and Cuban dance bands performed in Havana's casinos. Orestes Lopez and Israel “Cachao” Lopez created modifications over Afro-Cuban rhythms and particularly the Danzon, creating a new rhythm called mambo infused with American jazz band format. Mambo was danced in the same upbeat and sassy manner as American swing. The word "Mambo" comes from the warriors’ song of the Congo (one of the most important African groups brought to Cuba as slaves during the colonial times) There are two forms of dancing Mambo: single and double tempo.