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Dances of the Ancestors An Excerpt from The Breath of Cuba Part II

The Dances of the Ancestors 

Bodies glistening with sweat

Melodic rhythms, harmonious voices raised

Hands on skin as even the drums start to sing their own songs

Metal on metal in driving syncopations to keep the rhythm together

I am transported between the worlds

The ancestors are here amongst us

I can hear them echoing from the ethers

I can see them moving through the bones and bodies in front of me 

I can hear them crying and rejoicing in reunion here tonight

I am honored to feel embraced in their remembrance


The Trinifolk festival happens every year in Trinidad, Cuba as a celebration of Cuban’s diverse Afro-Caribbean-Spanish influenced roots.  The celebration is dedicated to Amador Ramírez, founder of the Folkloric Ballet of Trinidad, and to Las Cuevas Orchestra, an emblematic musical group of the territory. This multidisciplinary festivity offers local residents an opportunity to enjoy the performance of some of the best and most devoted musical artists and performers from the Cuban provinces of Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, and Ciego de Ávila.

Performers and artists come from all over Cuba to share their knowledge, showcase their talents and be together as artists and cultural enthusiasts.  In a week at Trinifolk, you can see a wide variety of cultural forms of music and dance from Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Havana, Pinar del Rio, and all the rural (campesino) areas as well.  It is one of the highlights of the year culturally in Trinidad, and while poorly attended by tourists, it is highly attended by Cubans as a celebration of their cultural heritage.  Casa de Cultura is located on Calle Rosario and for years has hosted this celebration of culture as well as many other regular community events including danzón, salsa classes, art classes and more.  

Finally, the lights dim and one spotlight sweeps the stage to get our attention. The light is a big old school canister light, operated by a man standing in the center with a cigar hanging out of his toothless mouth.  The night transforms into a stream of color, song, theatre, rhythm and dance that touches the very fiber of my soul. Colonial white flowing dresses, colorful garbs of the Orishas, swishing rainbow skirts, machetes, coconuts, fire, and rum being spit across the audience all mesmerize and captivate the audience.  This is Cubans celebrating their heritage, honoring their ancestors who dance through their bones, and sing through their voices, lifted together in ecstatic fervor uniting hearts and minds as one people.  

There are performers on stage, but there is no separation of audience and performer in the hearts of those present.  More than once, an audience member comes onto the stage to kiss the feet or tap the forehead of a dancer in acknowledgement of respect and familial love.  Theirs is a bond that goes beyond anything I can relate to, yet I feel part of it in the depths of my being. My teachers are amongst the drummers, Alexi and Alejandro perform with several of the groups, and Jorge dances with his troupe from Ciego de Ávila as well as some of the other groups. I am in the company of true masters, and they are portals into worlds beyond this world in what they hold inside.  

Seeing Jorge and the others dance was a portal to another world.  Every inch of his body quivered and shook in perfection with the rhythm as he danced guaguancó, yambu, and other folkloric forms I had never seen.  By far he was one of the most animated of all the dancers there. His big eyes would open wide and his nostrils would flare.  He was the perfect embodiment of his culture’s stories.   Their dancing took me back in time.  In their movements, I saw the Africans in their blood.   Visions flowed through my mind watching and listening to the drums.  It was as if I was witnessing the very history of this island through the dances and songs.  I could feel the connection directly from the Motherland.  I could see the slaves dancing and sweating in the fields.  I could see the very evolution of the culture, through the many revolutions Cuba has endured, as they fought with machetes and sticks for their freedom.   I could feel the suffering and challenges they went through in every movement they made. I was moved to tears more than once. 

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