Dancing in Havana or Santiago de Cuba

For two decades I've been watching the dance scene in Cuba. That is because after all, "Salsa dancing in Cuba" is a central aspect of the travel arrangements I offer. People who learn Salsa at „Danza y Movimiento“, – the first independent dance school in Cuba, with qualified Salsa-Instructors, – want to practice and test as soon as possible what they have learned. However, this is not as easy as one might think. The many music clubs, where often high-profile Cuban bands are playing are since time immemorial a pickup place.
Understandable, since the contact with tourists is a major source of income for many Cubans. Unfortunately that makes going out for dancing in Cuba in many locations less carefree than often described by tour operators. To go out for dancing as an individual in Cuba is not easy and sometimes really exhausting to my experience ...

Salsa with our dancers in Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Sabine Jacob

Usually it was easier for me if I went out while being accompanied by someone. But also here, it can happen that the dance-partner invites a lot of friends to the occasion who order happily their drinks at the expense of the host. Not to be a spoilsport and appear petty, such evenings are sometimes quite expensive, but can also be a lot of fun (if one doesn‘t care about the money too much).

As a result of the current tourist boom, the scene has changed again strongly in recent months. Drink prices go straight up. Most places where you can dance, are overcrowded. People who don‘t order somethng are prompted some places repeatedly and must otherwise leave the premises.

About a year ago: An american group from the program of „Danza y Movimiento“ dances at Hotel Inglaterra to live music. Photo: Alice Kupcik

Anyone who goes out dancing alone, be it man or woman, to whatever place, has increasing problems to find a dancing partner at all. Because less and less Cubans can afford entry or drink prices. Our American tour guide of the legal group-travel for US citizens, told me a few days ago about her experiences, while going out at night with her group: In some places were no Cubans at all – except our (paid) dancers who could dance well. The tour guide was constantly busy protecting the attendants from the onslaught of dance-willing tourists. People who had already been sitting around without dance partners throughout the whole evening and were bored stiff. (Our american tour groups go out in the evening with the dance partners from their Salsa dancing course and are accompanied by american and Cuban guides. Americans are still not allowed to travel for leisure to Cuba without an american travel companion.)

Dancing in Cuba is unfortunately more difficult than one might think. It took me years to accept the fact that dancing in Cuba is just different, to what I had imagined and also to what one is usually told.

Now, – how is it possible to practice all what yout have learned in Salsa lessons during your stay in Havana or Santiago de Cuba? I have spent a lot of thought on that one and tried out different things. The current status is as follows:

Salsa dancing in Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Sabine Jacob
In Santiago it has worked for several years very well, that the dance teachers go dancing together with the guests. This is included in the price of the dance course. The teachers drinks are of course paid by the dance students. All feedback from guests regarding these dances were previously positive.

Different in Havana. Apart from the fact that many dance partners in our Salsa classes in Havana are professional dancers who work on stage in the evening and therefore aren‘t available for dance accompaniment,... some of the feedback our guests have given, lead us to establish clear rules concerning accompanied dancing here.

I have therefore invented the Cuban Taxi Dancer. You are ”renting“ so to speak, a person who will accompany you for a certain number of evenings. Your companion introduces you into the scene and you practice on those evenings with him/her or with other people at the event. Plus, – dancing with others is in this context a lot easier. Since you are accompanied you are not exposed to any form of harassment or nerve-wracking pickup situations. This idea of „Taxi Dancer“ has been working well for a long time with Tango in Argentina.
Also in Cuba these clear agreements clarify the situation. In this way going dancing in Cuba comes close to what you might have thought it would be.

(fyi: We arrange dance companions only in connection with the booking of our travel packages. eg: three evenings with six hours of dance accompaniment cost about 190.- Euro. More details on request in connection with your booking.)

P.S. I don‘t dwell on writing „negative“ posts, but what I write truely reflects what I have experienced. In Cuba not everything is as it is presented to the outside. What are your experiences to go dancing as individual travelers / r in Cuba? You‘re welcome to write a comment ...


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Thursday, 22 April 2021