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Cuba music and dance

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Politics aside, tourism is booming in Cuba. Lots of travellers go there for one main reason: the music!

It's always been there, but the Buena Vista Social Club, with their popular sounds, helped spread the word. If a Cuban can't sing, they can dance. If they can't dance, they play an instrument.

Sprachcaffe, the international language school, is a great place to go. Spanish classes are held in the mornings and dance classes are held in the afternoon. It allows students to get more out of the colourful country's history, art and cuisine.

Cuban salsa is different from other salsas. Cubans dance side to side and the dance is more seductive. There are two types of salsa lessons — those run by the state and personal lessons, the latter being most fun.

Salsa, possibly Cuba's greatest export after the cigar, can trace its roots to the streets of Havana. Rumba originated on the docks of the Old Town. Be warned though — private instructors can get themselves into trouble as relationships with tourists are frowned upon.

Many Cubans will be friendly and willing to help you, but there are some who might be scared and only give dance lessons in certain places and at certain times. That probably adds to the excitement of learning the new steps. Don't worry about perfection — it's all about your own style and personality.

If you need to get the real Cuban feel before you show off your new dancing prowess in public, there's one place to go. La Bodeguita del Medio is a local institution, due largely to Ernest Hemingway's love of the mojitos.

Rum has been the national drink of Cuba since the 1500s. To celebrate the revolution, they invented "Cuba Libra", which is simply rum and cola. Then the Bacardi family made an incredible fortune with their smooth white rum known in every bar in every country in the world — except in Cuba. After the revolution the Bacardi company left Cuba, and the head of the company is alleged to have plotted with the CIA to kill Fidel Castro in the 1960s. Fidel foiled the plan and the only white rum on sale there today is Havana Club.

The mojito cocktail is a blend of sugar, lemon, mint, sparkling water, rum and ice, but its success is all in the making. Viktor at La Bodeguita del Medio is a master. The restaurant's menu has been described as "out of this world" for traditional Cuban dishes such as sleeping black beans and roast pork. La Bodeguita del Medio opened its doors in 1942 and ever since, people from every walk of life have kicked up their heels there — and most have carved or written their names wherever they can find space.

La Maison Havana is an elegant colonial mansion, once the home of a wealthy family in the ritzy part of town. Now it is home to clothing and jewellery shops, a piano bar and restaurant.

The mansion presents afternoon and evening fashion shows with music and entertainment and its al fresco restaurant specialises in fish dishes. Many diners finish their visit with a seven-year-old Varadero rum and Cohiba cigar. La Maison hosts many local bands.

Tropicana is a world-renown cabaret and club in Havana, Cuba. It was launched in 1939 on a suburban estate in Havana's Marianao neighbourhood. It has hosted headline acts such as Xavier Cugat, Carmen Miranda, Josephine Baker and Nat King Cole.

Launched as a "Paradise Under the Stars" venue, the Tropicana became known for its showgirls, conga sounds, flashy and spectacular productions and domino tournaments. It spread Cuban culture internationally and enticed visitors such as Édith Piaf, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Durante and Ernest Hemingway. It was so popular that special round-trip flights flew in customers from Miami in the late 1950s, leaving there in the evening and returning a 4am the following morning.


Cuba, between the Bahamas and Jamaica.


GAP Adventures' nine-day Music & Dance tours out of Havana are $990 per person, plus a local payment of 200 pesos. Tours include a Tropicana show in Havana, salsa and music lessons, and the chance to record a song at a local recording studio. A GAP Adventures tour leader will be there throughout, all accommodation — local hotels and homestays — and transport are included. Tours run fortnightly. Check their website for departure dates and their other Cuba tours.

Sprachcaffe one-week salsa lessons start at around $215 per person. One-week Spanish classes start at around $285.

Bodeguita del Medio is open from 10:30am to midnight.

For further information

GAP Adventures
Ph: 1300 796 618

Sprachcaffe International

Bodeguita del Medio
Calle Empedrado No 206
Ciudad de La Habana
Ph: +53 7 867 1374

La Maison Havana
Street 16, No 710
Corner of Avenue 7
Ph: +53 7 204 1541

Street 72, No 4504
Linea del Ferrocarril
Marianao, Havana
Ph: +53 7 267 1717

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GAP Adventures is offering Getaway viewers 10 percent off all Active and Original trips to Cuba. You need to book before July 31, 2008 to receive the 10 percent discount.

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