Cuban dance lives on ... in Mex­ico

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - World - Simp­son, No 2, Las Al­turas de Dan­zon

VER­ACRUZ/HA­VANA, Mex­ico — Glow­ing in a yel­low lace dress, Carolina Sali­nas fans her­self lan­guidly while the band burns through the sul­try rhythms of the “dan­zon”, Cuba’s na­tional dance.

But this is no Ha­vana night­club. In fact, dan­zon has vir­tu­ally van­ished from Cuba. To­day, it is be­ing kept alive thanks largely to a pas­sion­ate group of Mex­i­can fans like Sali­nas.

Dan­zon, a mu­sic and dance style blend­ing Euro­pean and African in­flu­ences, was born in Cuba in the 19th cen­tury.

Its birth­day is of­ten given as Jan 1, 1879 — the date of a New Year’s con­cert where Cuban com­poser Miguel Failde pre­miered a new song,

that took the tra­di­tional French con­tredanse and in­jected it with spicy Latin beats.

The dance that grew up around this new genre is char­ac­ter­ized by up­right pos­ture, sway­ing steps and re­peated re­frains dur­ing which the cou­ples strut arm in arm or the women fan them­selves co­quet­tishly.

In the Mex­i­can port of Ver­acruz, across the Gulf of Mex­ico from Cuba, cou­ples gather four times a week to dance dan­zon, twirling around the cen­tral square in fe­do­ras and evening gowns that evoke a by­gone era.

“In dan­zon, they teach you that im­age and pos­ture are im­por­tant for both the lady and the gentle­man. El­e­gance, that’s dan­zon,” said Sali­nas, a 26-year-old teacher, her hair and makeup im­pec­ca­ble as she fanned her­self dur­ing the “rest pe­riod” of the re­frain.

Mex­i­cans have breathed new life into the tra­di­tion.

“If Mex­ico hadn’t adopted dan­zon as an im­por­tant part of its pop­u­lar cul­ture, it would have dis­ap­peared,” said Miguel Za­mu­dio, a pro­moter of Dan­zon.

Dan­zon ar­rived in Mex­ico soon af­ter it was born, trav­el­ing first to the Yu­catan Penin­sula, then Ver­acruz. Even­tu­ally it reached Mex­ico City, where it leapt to fame af­ter fea­tur­ing in a se­ries of Mex­i­can movies in the 1940s.

The genre took on a life of its own in Mex­ico, whose mu­si­cians added many clas­sics to the dan­zon canon. They in­clude

by the com­poser Ar­turo Mar­quez, a piece that has been per­formed by some of the world’s top sym­phonies.

The dance also con­tin­ued to de­velop in dif­fer­ent ways across Mex­ico.

“In Ver­acruz they’ve kept alive a per­for­mance and dance style that is sim­i­lar to the Cuban orig­i­nal, while in Mex­ico City dan­zon has blended with other gen­res and evolved,” said Za­mu­dio.

In the cap­i­tal, dan­zon lovers have made it their own, in­cor­po­rat­ing ac­ro­batic turns and moves. But one con­stant that al­ways re­mains is the “rest” dur­ing the re­frains. “There are many le­gends about the rest: That it’s when cou­ples fall in love,” Za­mu­dio said.

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