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The dance of elegance

danzon-580x327The first danzón titled Las Alturas de Simpson, created by Matanzas musician Miguel Faílde, is considered the national dance and intangible heritage of the Cuban nation.

The work owes its name to the homonymous Matanzas neighborhood and gave rise to the dance known as danzón (or habanera). The public danced it for the first time on January 1, 1879, in the old Liceo Artístico y Literario de la Atenas de Cuba (today Sala White).

The documentary ¿Qué es el Danzón?, directed by Armando Linares, highlights: “It was derived as a result of the transculturation of the European contradanza that arrived at the beginning of the 18th century via the Spanish courts, due to the taking of Havana by the English in 1762 and at the end of the 18th century due to the migration of French settlers and blacks and mulattoes from Haiti to Cuba”.

As a danceable manifestation, it comes from a piece of paintings that was performed in Matanzas at the end of the 19th century. The body and spatial movements of this new genre were slower, cadenced and with greater creative freedom than previous dances, which denotes the process of stylistic transformation that Cuban ballroom dance underwent from the contradanza.

“The danzón became more varied than the dance; Specific instruments would star in each particular part in the melodic conception, constituting a distinctive element of this genre, what would be known as: part of the violin, part of the flute, part of the clarinet, according to the function and intervention of each one”, affirmed Maritza Cuba Núñez , director of Patrimony of the city of Matanzas.

Dancers were allowed to wear wing collars, jackets, vests, skirts, long skirts, and tight corsets without worrying about suffocating rhythms. It gained great popularity and acceptance among the population in a short time.

Doctor Ercilio Vento Canosa, historian of the city of Matanzas, stated that its emergence provoked political controversy on the part of the repressive press organs that described the dance as immoral for being a music of black origin. On the other hand, its defenders recognized it as Cuban music and a step towards the Spanish and Creole cultural separation.

The danzón was danced in pairs, up to a number of twenty, who executed square pieces, figures and steps with movements adjusted to the beat of the music. In later times, ladies used conspicuous fans.

According to the website Memoria de Cuba, by the writer Jorge Molina, the danzón has as a unique and novel characteristic in its time, the quality of alternating danced parts with breaks.

With the emergence of other dances such as the danzonete, the cha-cha-cha and the mambo, the danzón fell into decline in popular preference. However, since 2013 the dance has held the distinction of being the intangible heritage of Cuba and cultural organizations carry out actions to rescue the elegant steps of a danzón couple from the years.

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