To talk about Afro-Cuban dances, we must go back to colonial times, and to the moment when African slaves arrived in Cuba bringing with them an ancient culture of faith, music, dances and traditions that quickly joined the already imposing mix that was forging the identity of the Island.
The Afro-Cuban dance came with the slaves brought to Cuba from Africa between 1523 and 1853, in the form of African dances linked to the worship of deities, mainly to the Yoruba pantheon, although there are also many African peoples who made great contributions to the true “Cubanness ”.
These touches were assimilated today as a form of Cubanness and are important exponents of Afro-Cuban cultural wealth.
Orishas dances, an overflow of culture and Cuban culture
Most of these dances of religious origin come from the Lucumí Yoruba peoples of Nigeria, and contain steps and rituals representative of the Orishas of the Rule of Ocha religion.
Each deity has a representative dance that is performed to entertain him, to invoke him or to communicate with him. It is also a token of appreciation to the deities for their blessings and a message of devotion and respect.
Oyá, Obatalá, Yemayá, Elegguá, Ogún, Oshún, Ochosi and Shangó are some of the deities most adored by the devotees of the Rule of Ocha and those whose dance representations constitute today, the object of example of hundreds of folk dance groups, since the Afro-Cuban dance is today a sign of the island's identity for the world.
Therefore, today we explain the main characteristics of some of the most popular dances associated with the Orishas:
Oyá, the dance of the storm:
Oyá She is the goddess of the storm, of the tempest and the spark. She is the orisha that habita cemeteries, deity of death and who controls the eggunes (spirits) on their way to the afterlife.
And just like that is his dance, impetuous as a hurricane, and as intense as only death itself can be.
When Oyá he dances, shakes his iruke to clean the bad influences from the air. Thus, she cleanses the bad energies among the spectators, while her left hand supports her waist or holds the multi-colored skirt that she wears.
His dance is seen as too fast, even insane, a bacchanal. The basic dance step of Oyá is the displacement of the left foot on the floor.
Thus, the dancer shifts the weight of the body on the right with bent knees and advances sometimes slowly, sometimes too fast, screaming and making violent movements with her arms as if the worst storm on earth had been unleashed.
Sometimes he carries a lit torch in his right hand, making circles as he turns to the left. She shudders every time the drums play, like the very wind that she symbolizes.
The dance of the old Obatala:
obbatala He is the grandfather Orisha, the wise father of all deities, to whom immense devotion and respect is owed, for he is the shaper of life and rules in heavenly purity.
Orisha who wears white and bends over the years with every step she takes. The Obatalá dance includes the respect and purity characteristic of this Orisha in her clothes and in her movements.
His dance is full of those soft, undulating steps of a very old person. The dancer hunches over and sways.
But also, he brandishes his sword simulating his warrior ways and at the same time he dances, he speaks very softly as if giving ancestral advice and making predictions, also cleaning the observers with the iruke.
To perform the Obatalá dance, the dancer can be a man or a woman, and in the case of the man, he can be young or old and glide gently clearing the audience of any negative energy that may be present.
The dance of the seas, the dance of Yemayá:
The dance of Yemaya It perfectly simulates the movement of the waves of the sea and the sensuality of the blue of the waters.
The goddess, mistress of the seas, dances and while she does so, she laughs out loud and her body moves like the waves of the ocean, revealing her cheerful and affectionate character.
But his dance can rage like a stormy sea, cruel and ruthless.
Thus, their movements are in principle smooth, giving the image of the maternal mother and of a peaceful sea, but they also shake as if whipped by a storm, shaking the blue and white clothes, representing the immense natural force of the waters.
Also the dance of Yemayá can imitate swimming or diving in the ocean, and even collect a treasure from the bottom of the sea and bring it for your children.
For the dance, the other dancers circle Yemayá and turn in gentle movements at first, although later they increase in speed until they begin to turn like the enraged sea.
A happy dance that of Elegguá:
Of Eleggua It is a mischievous dance, representative of his facet as a child. But his movements also resemble those of the warrior and owner of the mountain that he is, destroying the roads with his scribble, or a stick-shaped branch that is used to separate the herbs.
Likewise, some of his movements can be very erotic, like a strong warrior celebrating his victories, like the first Orisha who is delivered.
In another style of dance, Elegguá also runs and stands behind the door. He jumps and twists, making childish faces like a mischievous god. He makes jokes to the audience and may disappear from sight to appear at any time, like the very paths that this deity opens and can close.
One of the characteristic steps when the Elegguá dance is performed is to stand on one foot and spin quickly, always accompaniedañado with the doodle or cane with which he travels the paths of life.
The dance of war, the dance of Oggún:
The Yoruba Orisha Oggun He dances like a warrior, even with angry steps, full of longing for the battle to come, but he also dances like a strong worker who makes his living in the fields or using the anvil.
In Oggún's dance, the dancer performs two mimics: the bellicose, in which he brandishes the machete, representative of the metals that this deity like so much, and the one he uses to make his way through the mountains, and the laborious dance, whose movements are agricultural in nature, and pretends to cut the herbs with the machete.
He can also pretend to be a blacksmith, and in that case he hits an anvil with a huge hammer, to which the other dancers respond by surrounding him and imitating his movements to earn a living working and bring abundance to the earth.
The most feminine and sensual, that's how Oshún dances:
Oshun she captivates everyone, men and gods alike, with her highly sensual dance and movements.
And it is that the Yoruba goddess of love, fills her dance with voluptuous movements that she performs with her outstretched hands and sudden touches of the hips, like a river that undulates on the surface and becomes violent in its recesses.
Her movements can imitate rowing a small boat and her hands simulate combing her hair or admiring herself in the mirror, as the deity of immense beauty and the proud woman that she is.
The goddess stands in a stretched position, looking over her nose at those around her as if calculating her audience and what she must do to enchant them, and then she voluptuously dances with movements as fluid as a river, making all of them sound. the decorations you like to wear.
The Oshún dance is as exquisite as the honey that the Orisha loves so much and just as sweet and as beautiful as the sunflower that represents it. It is said that men can get drunk watching the goddess of love dance and move, always smiling and dressed in a shimmering shade of yellow.
Ochosi, the dance of the Orisha hunter:
ochosi He is the god of justice, hunting and weapons and his dance is an example of his main activity as a warrior. Ochosi's dance symbolizes the pursuit of a hunter after his prey, and as such he advances, sometimes slowly and subtly so as not to be detected, with boldness and extreme caution.
But when the violence of the persecution begins, the Orisha screams, and performs contortions, jumps and pirouettes through the air with his bow and arrow in his hands, as a sign of dedication to the activity, strength and freedom that only a warrior of the mount knows.
For the Yoruba hunter dance, he dresses in a combination of Elegguá and Oggún with a lilac or light purple costume. Her hat and bag over her shoulder are made of tiger skin.
In this dance of art and fighting, Ochosi always carries a bow and arrow, attributes that represent him as the owner of weapons and eternal owner of the mountain.
And it is always the Ochosi dance, it is one of those preferred by male folkloric representations, who love to show pure manly beauty in their favorite activities.
For this reason, they often choose to represent the hunting dance of Ochosi, the Orisha hunter, which they fill with stupendous choreographic movements and dancing bodies that run as if it were a real hunt and also move their bows and arrows. The dancers are all dressed in the colors and attributes of the hunter Orisha, and show the public the beauty of the hunt.
The lord of drums, the dance of Shango:
And maybe we leave him last because dance is his middle name.
It is very usual for the practitioners of the Regla de Ocha to dedicate the Afro-Cuban ceremonies in full to the great Monkey, the god of dance and music and owner of the Batá, Wemdamientos, Ilú Batá or Bembés drums. The god of passion and strength, lord of the purest energy.
Nothing better to invoke the god of thunder from the Yoruba pantheon than to represent the dance of Shango, with that joy of living, the intensity of life, masculine beauty and passion and all those qualities must be explicit in the dance of this Orisha .
Shango in his dance, hits the head and turns three ram turns towards the drums. The dancer opens his eyes wide and sticks out his tongue.
The characteristic movements of his dance are brandishing the ax and grabbing his testicles, in full masculine manifestation. His dance can become violent accompaniedañastrange gestures that simulate the full satisfaction of manhood.
Shango's dances usually represent his facets as a victorious warrior and as a great seducer. He can swing his ax and make threatening gestures, and act lewd to the women they watch, in his facet of warrior, seducer, and mighty god.
The dancers to present their devotion, imitate their movements and their sexual swagger and surround the main figure who is always dressed in red, accompanied byañaGives an ax to cleanse negative energies.
The dances of the Orishas are art, faith and devotion, one more way of communicating, speaking and connecting with our deities, between that divine space on earth and heaven.