“Venceremos” is a phrase you will find painted in beautiful colors all over the walls and streets of Havana, Cuba. It means, “we will overcome,” Something that has been a part of the Cuban reality for over 50 years. The Cuban people have been forced to overcome an extreme shortage of resources given the isolated nature of their economic system. Seeing this scarcity first hand made it difficult to understand how open, humorous and happy the Cuban people are, despite these problems. When I asked them how this was so, many would show me through dance and movement. They explained that they just couldn’t afford to be miserable. When you struggle so much you have no choice but to find happiness in day-to-day activities. Everywhere you go in Cuba, people are dancing and moving through space and time with pride and joy in a rhythm that has been in their bloodline for centuries.
Each morning while in Cuba I practiced yoga. Many of those days it was on dusty concrete in the courtyard of the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Center, a NGO dedicated to community development, which hosted my group. The kitchen and center staff stood by watching us lead ourselves through sun salutations and relaxation techniques as the morning sun gained its heat. They seemed curious, but when we asked them to join they politely declined and just kept watching, fascinated by the large group we had become over the course of the 40-minute practice before breakfast. I realized there that it does not matter where or what you practice, but what it brings to you and those around you.
I spoke to many Cubans about my own work as a children’s yoga teacher in DC and VA public schools. They found it hard to believe that some schools had a culture of violence or marginalization, because in Cuba, every school is the same. They were also fascinated that some schools in the US had the opportunity to have yoga in their schools and they wondered why others did not. Many Cubans were very interested in general in the practice of yoga; however, they explained that there were no formal institutions for them. Cuba has the best preventative medical system in the world, and some have taken an interest in holistic health practices, yoga being one of them. Furthermore, the spiritual nature of yoga was something that Cubans could relate to. Connecting the mind, body, heart and soul to nature is very much a part of what dance and music provide to the Cuban people.
The purpose of my trip to Cuba was to study the national education system. Overall, I was very impressed with every student I met, from kindergarten to university. When I visited a kindergarten classroom, the children were prompted to find a dance partner and perform for us. The children immediately found their partners with no fuss and began dancing to a traditional rhythm. Expressing themselves through movement is such an integral part of their culture, which begins in the earliest stages of development. Seeing movement-based learning in the most organic form in Cuba certainly reaffirmed the need to create this same kind of culture right here in the DMV.