Saturday, September 11, 2010

Buena Vista take two

september 11

Our number dwindled to two--the two diehards of the Buena Vista Social Club who were not deterred by last weeks cancellation or the 25CUC price tag. But my friend Ingrid and I finally made it to the Hotel Nacional after an exhausting day.

First we had gone to el campo--the countryside, nearish to Havana--to visit a farm. Little did we know when we left at what seemed like the crack of dawn--7am--that we would be picking guayabas and marching through the red dirt. The same red dirt that got everywhere. Shoes, legs, hands, clothes...And most of us were wearing our birkenstocks and shorts. I felt like a total ninny next to the veteran trabajadores (all women) who were wearing heavy cotton shirts with long sleeves. Not to mention their rubber boots. Such a gringo I am.

I was grumpy considering my stomach ache and the remnants of my exhaustion the day before. I'm still having digestive problems and not feeling myself. But the trip to the farm was the perfect "I'm-glad-I-don't-have-to-do-this-every-day"-experience. And of course it helped contextualize life in Havana, the big city.

They made us a light lunch, which for Cubans means a vast array of fruit, plus juice, plus hamburgers, plus about 15 coconuts that they cut open for us. That's right, fresh coconut water. Felt like just the right thing for a sick boy.

One thing I learned is that the food that the US does export to Cuba, which is a limited amount, has to be paid for in cash by the Cuban government. No "I'll-pay-you-back-in-2-years"-policy. Needless to say, this makes things difficult.

After coming back to the house, we had to head straight for our first dance class. Now, I should explain first that classes at the conservatory, ISA, don't start until October. But we've met a member of the modern dance company that we saw perform, and he's agreed to give us lessons--6CUC a class. Kind of steep, but supposedly a discount when considering his normal hourly rate of 10CUC.

Herlandís, our teacher, is really sweet and pretty young. He's really strong looking. The class was supposed to be "contemporary" as opposed to folkloric. We soon realized that we were in for a surprise.

What we did was a nearly two hour warm-up. We stretched and stretched. We did pliés, tendus, and some crazy gran pliés at the barr with one foot resting up on the barr and the other pliéing to the floor in a forced arch. It was easily the most intense stretch session of my life. I remember thinking, "I don't remember my legs ever stretching this far apart."

I could feel my poor body saying "no!" "no!" every time he came around and pushed us into super deep stretches, usually in some position that felt odd and contorted. We were all totally out of shape, not having taken dance for months. And here we were pushing beyond the normal limits, beyond where we would be if we were already in shape! Into forbidden territory as far as Sarah Lawrence dance is concerned. I'm not saying it's bad to "challenge" yourself but when challenge borders on injury, that's too far.

I wasn't expecting feel-good Sarah Lawrence vibes, don't get me wrong. I have a feeling I'm going to work hard here as a dancer, and probably will get stronger as a result. Good for me! But I need to be extremely careful I don't fuck my back or my knees up in the process. For example, my neck right now has a limited range of motion. I sat under the hot water for 15 minutes in the shower and it's feeling better.

So, I need to respect my limits. Here's where this gets tricky. First, there's a language barrier. When my teacher is pushing on me and thinks its good for me, that's one thing. Another is when it really hurts and I have to say something but he doesn't get it and...I fail to communicate that I'm in a LOT of pain. So I guess that's the first thing I need to work on: learn how to say OUCH in Spanish.

The other thing is how to voice my concerns in a respectful way. We did a lot of stretches that are literally taboo at my school, and actually in all of my 16 years of dance training. Example: "Such and such is terrible for your knees, so really don't do that ever, but if you do, be extremely careful" Today we did such and such. Over and over again. But I can't say to my Cuban teacher "I'm not doing this because my teacher at home says its bad for you" because this basically means challenging his entire method of training. So can I abstain respectfully and not say anything about the exercise itself? I tried it a little bit today. But usually he'd just come over and help me do it properly (ie the terribly painful and anatomically dangerous way).

My feeling is that this all comes from the ballet philosophy. It's about lines and form and looking a certain way. Modern, at least in its current Sarah Lawrence incarnation, is about the individual--and using your body in an efficient, safe way.

Sorry to blab on about ONE dance class. Obviously you can see it made an impact on me. Tomorrow is folkloric dance. Hopefully less stretching and more moving around. But for now ibuprofen is my friend--will someone send me some more? I'm running out.

Finally, in my roundabout way, I've come to the part about the Buena Vista Social Club. I'll be short and to the point. It was cancelled, for lack of reservations. Apparently not enough tourists around this weekend to buy tickets. And tourists seem to be the only ones who know about these concerts. But the desk lady told us that they try every weekend. So I WILL see them. No matter what.

Third time's the charm.

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