Cuban Dance and Culture Course Creates Immersive Experience for Students

by Craig Zaccaro

Cuban Dance and Culture Course Creates Immersive Experience for Students
Cuban Dance and Culture students

Music and dance are part of everyday life in Cuba and are deeply tied to the traditions and culture of the Cuban people.  The students enrolled in Dance 418: Cuban Dance and Culture had the unique opportunity to experience the dancing, people, and culture first hand.  This course, offered through Mason’s Center for Field Studies and led by Jim Lepore, a professor in Mason’s School of Dance, allowed students to travel to Cuba and spend 14 days over winter break working with dance professionals and experiencing the Cuban dance culture from the inside.  

Much of the music and dance in Cuba draws heavily from African influences and dates back to the 19th century when African slaves and European immigrants began arriving in Cuba.  The unique traditions and religious practices of each group became intertwined, leading to the dominant Afro-Cuban influence found today.  For the Cuban people, “the music, dance, and culture represent a part of their legacy that will be passed down,” explains Lepore.  One of the unique benefits of this trip is the inclusive environment created by the local people.  They view the students not as visitors, but as fellow dancers and readily invite them to jump in and join them on the dance floor.

One of the first things students will notice upon arriving in Cuba is their immediate insertion into the indigenous culture.  There’s no learning curve necessary.  The decreased cultural emphasis on things like social media, cell phones, and the Internet help foster this immersive experience.  “Students are able to empathize and identify culturally on a level that most tourists don’t,” explains Lepore.  During the day, students worked with dance professionals from the Ballet Folklórico Cutumba in Santiago de Cuba and the Babul Folkloric Ballet in Guantánamo.  In the evenings, students actively participated in the local music and dance culture.  Students don’t have to be dance majors to participate and enjoy this course.  “This class is for students of all ability levels,” notes Lepore.  The immersive nature of the experience along with the inclusive environment allows students of all ability levels to come away with a deep appreciation for the Cuban culture.   

Professor Lepore is already planning future sessions of this course with trips scheduled for Summer 2013 and Winter 2014.