CROSSING BORDERS WITH CULTURE


An essay

Jonathan Burke
Boston University '16


Cuban nationals have very slim chances of ever seeing life outside of their socialist island 90 miles south of Miami. So many people travel to Cuba every year, and with the opening of relations between Cuba and the United States this number is expected to dramatically increase. Despite being so exposed to people from different places, most Cubans have never left the island and cannot realistically hope to even pay for a passport ($350 plus renewal fees) on an average salary of $20 a month.[1] There are, however, a select few that have been able to leave the island and see many countries around the world: Cuban artists.

Workers in the field of art and culture are some of the only people in Cuba with a realistic chance of travelling the world. Music and Dance are probably two of the most highly regarded professions in Cuba, as Cuba’s art is world renowned and enjoyed by many. Traditional Cuban music and dance such as Son, Cha-cha-chá, Mambo, Danzón, Rumba, and Yoruba/Lucumí Dances help create the basis for modern day Salsa and Timba, which are enjoyed worldwide by many people. This puts Cuban artists in high demand for their specialized knowledge, and has resulted in Cuban artists traveling all over the world to teach many about the roots of salsa. The popularity and demand for Cuban music and dance has also lead many recruiters to pay for artists to leave the island as ambassadors for Cuban dance and music in festivals and special events that promote its unique culture. Two Cuban dancers, Yohan Corrioso Sanchez and Dailin Monferrer la Rosa, offer some interesting insights into being part of the elite Cuban travelling class.

Yohan Corrioso Sanchez is a popular Cuban dancer from La Habana that is high in demand in Europe, and that has been able to travel around Europe and the Caribbean through his former dance company Viadanza (previously Danza Chévere). “In the field of culture, almost everyone has many opportunities to travel…if you work professionally with culture, whether you’re a musician or dancer, [you] have many opportunities to travel,” highlights Corrioso Sanchez, “Sometimes luck favors some more than others. In my case, luck favored me. For this I am grateful.” Through his dancing, he has been able to travel to perform and teach in France, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Panama, Jamaica, and even the United States.

While a large amount of possibilities for Cuban artists to travel exists, a lot is needed to actually be able to achieve such a feat. “[Travelling through dance] can be difficult because you need to be recruited to travel abroad,” emphasizes Dailin Monferrer La Rosa. Monferrer La Rosa is a Cuban dancer originally from Santiago de Cuba who now dances with Viadanza Dance Company in Centro Habana. She travelled with her former company, Ballet de la Television Cubana, to the Caiman Islands, Italy, and Spain over the course of eleven months. Monferrer La Rosa makes it clear that “[dancers] can’t just get up tomorrow and say, ‘I’m going to go travel to a different country to dance.’ This can’t be done in Cuba.” After being recruited, both Corrioso Sanchez and Monferrer La Rosa made their way around the world by performing spectaculars of Salsa, Timba, and Afro-Cuban dance. They were required to be well rounded and knowledgeable in Cuba popular and folkloric dance. “You have to learn all of the popular dances, as well as ballet and [contemporary] dance,” says Yohan. Being a well-rounded dancer is key for recruitment. 

Through these shows, these two dancers have been able to travel and gain interesting perspectives on the different cultures and peoples. “We learn a lot from foreigners…when they’re working, they are very serious and they know that when you have to work, you have to work. A lot of people here [in Cuba] are a little more easy-going and relaxed,” says Monferrer La Rosa of her interactions with foreigners. Corrioso Sanchez also saw an impressive level of professionalism abroad, saying, “[I learned] that respecting the instructor and timeliness is very important [in these countries].” While the level of professionalism and seriousness in the workplace surprised both dancers, they still insisted that what these places lacked in comparison to Cuba was a certain unity and oneness that the Cuban people share for one another. “We have a lot of solidarity and hold a respect for each other…Cubans are unique,” boasts Monferrer La Rosa. This pride seems to flow endlessly from the two dancers. “Abroad there is a lack of communication between human beings that we have here in Cuba, we are more humanitarian…because of this and my cultural roots, I am forever drawn to my country,” Corrioso Sanchez proudly exclaims.

To learn how you can go to Cuba and connect with Cuban dancers and artists, visit www.voyagetocuba.com or email cultural connections@metamovements.com

Interviews with Yohan Corrioso Sanchez and Dailin Moferrer La Rosa were both conducted in La Habana, Cuba and translated for the purposes of this article.

 

[1] De Armas, Jorge. "Cuban Passports & Demanding What’s Fair." Havana Timesorg Cuban Passports Demanding Whats Fair Comments. Havana Times, 21 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

 

Any opinions expressed here are the author's own.