On the Discrepancy Between DJs and Dance Workshops at Cuban Dance Events in the U.S. (and Probably in Europe)
Today, I want to talk about Cuban dance congresses and events, particularly in the context of the United States (mostly because said context is what I know; however, I would not be surprised if you lived in France and this applied to you, too). More specifically, I want to talk about the relationship between the workshops which are being offered are these congresses and events and the music which the DJs then play at the socials.
The point of this post is the following: there is a big discrepancy between these two things I mentioned—the content of the workshop and the music DJs play—which, those who attend these events, rather than passively take for granted, we should actively question.
A perfunctory look at any Cuban dance event anywhere will show a diversity of dance workshops. Along with your expected casino and rueda de casino classes, you may get workshops on other popular Cuban dances such as son, chachachá, pilón, danzón, mambo (the Cuban one), as well as Afro-Cuban and folkloric dances.
The variety is there to stay, a testament to the impact and influence of Cuban dance outside of the island—and an explanation, of sorts, of why a Cuban dance congress, unlike a Colombian, Venezuelan, or Puerto Rican one, can stand on its own in the United States without having to be labeled “Latin” and be mixed with dances from other countries.
But then nighttime falls, and with it, the workshops end. The dance social begins.
I do not think it would be illogical of anyone to expect the music played at the social to be somehow tied to the workshops which took place mere hours before. And, in a way, the music does tie in. You see people left and right practicing what they learned in their casino and rueda de casino workshops; the timba plays on and on.
And just when you think there will be a change in the playlist which will allow you to practice, say, the rumba guaguancó steps you learned in one of the workshops you took, or the chachachá steps, or the mambo steps, or any other step of any other workshop which was not casino—just when you think the music will change, it does not. The timba keeps playing.
It is at this point that I start questioning the reasoning behind offering workshops in dances other than casino and rueda the casino.
I question it because, if the DJs do not play music which ties in with these other dances which are being taught, this then can be taken as a sign that these other dances are not important. Indeed, why would anyone want to learn to dance chachachá if the DJs will not play chachachá? I know I would not. But I am not most people. And most people still take these classes. And for the hour or so which these classes last, they have fun; they learn something new. But then the class is over, and because there is no follow-up later at the social, they most likely forget what they were taught.
So what is the point, then, of teaching these other dances which we never are going to dance outside of the workshop?
Let me begin by saying that I do not have an answer, but I do have some suggestions.
The following is what I think could be done to deal with this issue. (With this I am not creating definitive guidelines, mind you, but simply opening the floor for reflection and debate as to what would be the best way of achieving this “pretty cool” scenario I proposed above.)
First, these events need to create demand. If dance workshops in dances other than casino are supplied, but a demand is not being created by having DJs include the music of these workshops in their playlist, although some people will take the workshops because they are curious, there will be no incentive (demand) to actually learn the dance—and by learning I mean becoming proficient in the dance to the point where they can dance to whole songs.
And because there is no demand, supplying these workshops ends up seeming pointless. Indeed, learning the basics of son, chachachá, danzón, rumba and other dances do seem pointless without a follow-up at the social; that is, without the chance to practice and get better.
Second, let us acknowledge that the DJs have a lot to do with this, yes, but that we cannot forget about the workshops. To really do justice than any one Cuban dance, more workshops of the same dance should be offered. Indeed, it would be a little illogical to expect someone to know how to dance son after one workshop. Of course, it would also be illogical to expect someone to know how to dance son after five or six workshops. However, it would be logical to expect this someone to have a better knowledge of son after five or six workshops, enough to take it home with him/her and be incentivized to keep practicing.
When one then combines these son workshops with the music which goes with it during the socials, and the music gets played at various points during the night and throughout the weekend, one then creates a reason (demand) to explain why all these son workshops (supply) are being provided, and thus make them seem relevant. (By the way, son is just the example I am choosing. The same can be done with any other dance.)
Consider this: if, at the social, people find themselves sitting down because they do not know how to dance to the ten-minute set which the DJs play every thirty minutes (let’s say, a set of traditional son, or son montuno), and, as they sit, they see that there are all these other people who, because they took the workshops, know how to at least fend for themselves when it comes to this music, chances are that the next day they will take a couple of son classes so that, when they DJs play son again the next night, he/she will not be sitting down during the next set. (Think about it. Isn’t that how you started with casino, because you wanted to be able to dance like the other people, instead of sitting down and watching them?)
So, in a nutshell, what I am suggesting is to change the apparent discrepancy between the music played and the workshops taught into a relationship based on reciprocity—aren’t those the best ones?—where the content of the workshops are working in conjunction with the content of DJs’ playlists.
The rewards of this could be pretty amazing:
- One, the Cuban dance community will see a flourishing of dancers affluent in more than one dance, and who therefore have a better understanding of the different dance traditions of Cuba.
- Two, there will be people who appreciate and dance to music other than timba. Personally, I think this is a pretty big one, since it seems that for most people Cuban music started in the 90s, and in thinking this way they are missing out on a lot of the amazing stuff that came before that—not to say that a lot of the more “traditional” Cuban bands come to the U.S. every now and then and people do not know how to dance to the music they play.
- And Three, the Cuban dance events will be more well-rounded, being a closer representation of the diversity of Cuban music and dance—if such thing can ever be achieved by anybody, or any event—as opposed to a being a very casino-centered dance event.