I struggled to write this blog post. It is a departure from my norm, more of an opinion piece than general content. Despite my hesitation, it is a theme that I constantly come back to when I visit and think of Cuba, and as I go through pre-production development of my first film made possible through the SAW Video Jump Start mentorship program. Not surprisingly, the subject of my film is Cuban dance, more specifically rumba.
During my first trip to Cuba, I was struck by the strong body language Cubans used. Young girls walked the streets, their hip swaying from side to side, they moved like confident women in their twenties. Young boys not even in middle school walked with swagger, they cat called and hissed to get the attention of women well outside a suitable age range.
Sexuality is a strong party of the Cuban culture, it is something you cannot deny, and as my Spanish teacher told me once, "no puedes evitar lo", you cannot escape it.
For the first-time visitor, this overt awareness of human sexuality can be startling, some female travellers might even call it offensive. But over time, as you begin to recognize it as a part of the culture, it bothers you less. And dare I tread on the toes of any feminists readers, sometimes it can even be fun to let yourself embrace your new found sexuality. Go ahead, flirt-back, respond, most of the time these guys are harmless.
Going through my photos of Havana, I came across these two (above) of a young boy and young man. The facial expression and the walk is identical; although the boy on the left seems no older than twelve, and the man on the right is at least a decade older.
I see this also with females. Regardless of beauty and size, Cuban women seem to exude a sexual confidence that many North American women only aspire for. See this short clip of a young girl I filmed at El Gran Palenque. She was in the crowd with her mom, and with little encouragement, went up to dance for the audience.
But why is sexuality such a strong part of the Cuban culture? Is it growing up with dancing that makes you comfortable in your own skin? Is it the hot climate? Or, is it the lack of advertising telling women they have to look like waif-like models.
After returning home from spending months in Cuba I saw many campaigns on television and social media promoting positive body image, with a message to women in particular to love their bodies. Then I think of these Cuban women of different shapes and sizes - they know they are beautiful; anything to the contrary, is implausible.