Engineer and the Arts: Afro Cuban Dance

Shana Douglass Shana, Viterbi Life Leave a Comment

I’m by no means a dancer, but it’s something I enjoy immensely. Just about the only type of exercise I get when I’m not on the elliptical is some form of dance. I’m constantly taking Zumba or hip hop exercise classes outside of my academic schedule, so I figured why not make it a part of my course load.  Pro tip: take classes of things that you enjoy and that aren’t too hard outside your major. All of my classes this semester are strictly engineering, and I found that this dance class was a great way to get a break in my day, do something fun, and earn an easy A.

This year I signed up for Afro-Cuban dance class, which is held in the brand new Kaufman School of Dance building. As the name suggests, the class is a mix of traditional African and Latin American dance styles. The class is unique in that not only do we learn the dances themselves, but we also learn the history behind the dances. The religions, cultural significance, and historical context behind each of the different forms of dances is explored in order to better understand the movement and expression.

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While learning a completely new dance style is challenging itself, the difficulty is increased 10 fold when you also have to sing and play musical instruments at the same time.  An aspect of Afro-Cuban dance which I was unfamiliar with, was how integral music and singing is to the dance itself. At the beginning of the class, the instructor teaches us rhythmic patterns using the drums and claves. Side note, my instructor is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She was originally from Kenya, was a singing/drumming superstar in her home country, came to America to tour with her band, and was trained in dance by Katherine Dunham, an African American giant in the arts. Needless to say, she’s full of fun stories, and always keeps the class lively. In addition to playing the instruments, we learn how to sing the traditional songs, which typically are a hybrid of African languages and Spanish.

The dances themselves range from up-beat party dances, such as Bembe, to relaxed, spiritual songs like Yemaya. My personal favorites are the ones heavily influenced by Latino culture, those dances tend to be really fast paced and give me the workout I’m looking for. I’ve included a few recordings from class for your viewing pleasure.

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Shana Douglass

Shana Douglass

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