Destiny in Cuba 2019

In June of 2019, 13 dancers from the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company in Oakland, California travelled to Cuba for a People to People cultural exchange. The trip was overflowing with heart, soul and action! The itinerary created for us by Global Exchange had an emphasis on music and dance and on looking into the African history and traditions that deeply shape Cuba. To make this once-in-a-lifetime trip possible, the dancers and their families reached out to their communities for support and over 400 donors generously contributed. Huge gratitude to all our communities without whom this trip would not have been possible.

Within hours of our arrival in Havana we were at the home of the hip hop duo, Obsesion. This was the first of many encounters where we could so clearly see that music, dance and social justice connected us across any imagined barriers of language, politics or culture. We danced, rapped and beat-boxed together on their roof top, with a view of Havana Bay.

Meet our phenomenal guide Sara Daisy.
And extraordinary driver Carlos (with assistant, Kai).
We couldn't have been in better or more inspiring hands.

In Matanzas, a port city with strong Afro Cuban traditions, we visited the Esquina de las Tradiciones Community Art and Music Project. We saw some of the community’s public art projects and heard about some of the traditions from Africa that the center has helped revitalize.

We were greeted by a dancer who embodied Elegua, the Orisha that initiates all things. The dancer immediately spotted the two adults of our group who are also under Elegua, and started dancing with them. Drumming and dancing continued and the community gathered around, hanging in the doorways and windows.

"The trip was an amazing and beautiful experience that I will never forget. I learned so much about their culture,music, dancing and more. Very thankful to all of the people that supported us to go." - Zarina

We had a two-hour Salsa class during a thunderous thunderstorm. Cuban-style salsa has some particular nuances that our U.S. crew worked hard to learn. In the spirit of exchange, our instructors performed for us, and we performed for them.

"On the trip we played drums and danced Afro Cuban dances. This was really fun because we all learned something new about Cuban culture." - Latersha

It was a happy coincidence that Cuban celebrity singer, Luna Manzanares, was arriving to rehearse just as we were planning to perform at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples in Santa Clara. She watched our performance and invited us to visit a private rehearsal with her band.

We toured the Che Guevara Memorial and Museum in Santa Clara and learned more about Che’s life and the Revolution.

At the Hermanos Saiz community project we had a hip hop exchange with several Cuban rap stars and subsequent performances by DAYPC included Rashidi and Desmond stepping up on the microphone!

There were mangoes. Did we mention, there were mangoes?

We were honored to be joined one day for lunch by Gloria Rolando, a well known Cuban filmmaker of African descent. She told us about her work and offered advice to the budding filmmakers in the group. We also gave her bags of donations for her community of items that are sometimes hard to find in Cuba like notebooks, toiletries, feminine hygiene products and many other items donated by the delegation.

Back in Havana, we had a fun evening as audience members at la Zorra y el Cuervo where we enjoyed a jazz performance by Grammy winning jazz artist José Luis Cortes and his band.

"I felt really honored to get to explore, hang out and party in Cuba. All the activities were extremely fun and the culture, art and dancing was absolutely amazing." - Makayla
"Being able to gain the perspective provided by the vibrancy of Cuba and its people has and will continue to enrich not only all of our world views, but our day to day interactions with our 'home' environment." - Carson

At the National Art Museum we had a great tour guide who walked us through the collection of post-revolutionary art. It was a great way to layer in history, and see another manifestation of Cuban creativity, resilience and talent.

For a deeper dive into some of the socio-cultural realities of Cuba, we had a chance to meet with experts on gender, sexuality and race.
"The drumming class that we took in Havana was incredible. I felt completely immersed in the culture and I felt welcomed with open arms. It was such a blessing to be surrounded by beautiful people. We may live in different places but their hearts are just as big and spirits just as pure." - Mya
"The trip was sensational. I loved going to Cuba. The drumming class was one of my favorite activities." - Imani
Havana through the bus window.

The performance we saw by mostly female Cuban dance and percussion group, Habana Compas, knocked us off our feet. DAYPC then brought their A-game and performed for them. A great exchange followed where we did kinetic introductions, Rashidi led a short master class and an intense freestyle circle ensued!

"Many of us did not speak the same language as Cubans, but every artistic interaction we had transcended that reality. Through art, we spoke the same language." - Isha

After dinner, we went to visit a neighborhood block organization, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). It was a highlight to meet Cubans of all ages in their neighborhood and learn about their daily life and the role of the CDR. Everybody enjoyed music, dancing and community building in the residential street. The kids stole the show at the dance party.

"Yep! It really was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m grateful I was a part of it. In this short span of time I’ve seen the people around me grow a whole lot." - Desmond

We spent the whole morning at the Muraleando Community Arts Project where community members had turned an actual dump into an art center, a sculpture garden, and the vibrant heart of their neighborhood. More music and dancing (including a surprise song performed by Ingrid and Imani).

We weren't at the hotel much, but when we were, we enjoyed the view and the ocean.

The Guanabacoa Museum of Afro Cuban Religion was a highlight for many. The performance of religious music and dance that we experienced was deeply moving.

"Going to the Afro Cuban religion museum made me incredibly emotional and happy because I was able to learn more about a culture and religion that I feel connected to." - Ingrid
"This Cuba trip has by far been one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. I have never been so deeply immersed in art, love and culture." - Grace
Created By
Lauren Stevenson

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