Moving through a Free World:
What Politics and Dance Mean for a New York Choreographer on Journey to Cuba
By Megan Curet
On December 2, 2016, I traveled to Havana, Cuba with Chilean filmmaker Elisa Correa. As a documentarian she has been following my dance company, Curet Performance Project, for the past year. While in Cuba, she filmed for the documentary, while I interviewed local dancers from the Afro-Dance scene for an investigation on the Afro-Diaspora of Latin dances. As a dance researcher, I was working on creating a syllabus that would encompass various dance forms and wanted to learn more about the dances of the diaspora. During my time in Havana, I also grew to better understand the systems of communism and capitalism and the influence they have on creating new socially engaging works.
I arrived one month after the election of Donald Trump, one week after the passing of Fidel Castro, and nearly nine months after President Obama lifted the Cuban embargo. Bridging the gap between two vastly different socioeconomic systems in tumultuous political times, I gave a workshop centered on the politics of identity at the Casa Del Son, a major Latin dance hub in the center of Old Havana. Both professional and non-professional dancers participated in the movement research, choreographic practice, and socially engaging repertoire I have been creating for the last three years.
We began with an exercise on reaction and resistance. I asked that the participants react using only small initiator points, before summoning full-body movement. I offered a current political event or scenario, and they reacted to my verbal cues. Following their initial reaction, I then asked them to apply a form of resistance. They were not allowed to respond verbally, only physically. Many of the Americans in the workshop responded with hostile movements, such as pounding their fists into the air, convulsing, and shaking their bodies. As a spectator leading the workshop less than a month after the U.S. presidential elections, I found this unique.
The participants, primarily from the U.S. and Cuba, had different methods of movement, but all offered the same physical power. Here were people from completely different socioeconomic systems trying to sift through what they knew and what they felt in the rawest form possible. Their moving bodies and gestures represented angst, frustration, and anger. It was a rigorous and brief period of working with a group of people who earlier that day had been strangers. The newly created choreography we made ended with a collapse of bodies on the cold concrete floor of Casa Del Son.
Our lives are built upon and within rigid external systems that may or may not represent what is in our best interest as humans. However as dancers, we are taught to move through these systems, working as best as we can within them. Upon leaving Cuba, which operates under a vastly different socioeconomic system than the United States, I was left not with the question of comparison between their system and ours, but rather with a question of continuation and mobilization. How do we maintain our freedom to move through all these systems in an ever-changing globalized world? As systems are created and fall apart, how does movement succeed these changes? What do the futures of Cuba and the U.S. mean for the futures of the moving bodies within them?
Through my findings I discovered the need to advocate for further resistance using movement as a common language towards all systems that are oppressive. Cuba engages with one system and the U.S. with another, but the results seem to be the same. As individuals who wish to be vocal about our beliefs, we should use our moving bodies to find a manner of dialogue.
We will have to fight to maintain the right and platform to continue to create works of change now more than before, for reaction and resistance are ours to embody and only through embodying these challenges do we truly understand what we stand to lose. Dancers, non-dancers, artists, and creative people alike must come together to move through this world we hope to maintain free.
Megan Curet is founder of TiLLT Magazine and Co-Editor. She is also artistic director and choreographer of contemporary dance company, Curet Performance Project. She seeks to engage with the political and social through her dance agenda.