Danzón: Happy Holy Places
By Leonardo Rosen
In celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, Dr. Claudia Llanas and I had a danzón weekend in Mexico City. We decided to dance at two of the holiest shrines of the danzón in all of this country. Fortunately, these are not solemn places. On the contrary, they are full of the joy of life.
On Saturday, February 14, we went to the Parque de la Ciudadela, very near downtown. On the weekends, many hundreds of happy people go there to dance the danzón all afternoon in the open air at no charge, officially starting at 12 noon. Usually, there is a very good sound system, but on St. Valentine’s Day, there was an excellent live orchestra with the imposing name of the Nueva Danzonera de la Santa Luna. The majority of people chose to dance socially in front of the bandstand. These are mostly more mature couples although there are some younger people. The dancers are of every skill level. There is no elitism in the danzón, unlike some other dances. What we have in common is that we are all having a great time doing what we love.
In addition, there are also some well-respected teachers giving classes or workshops right there in the park. Claudia and I joined the group of maestro Fernando Suaste. His class was not for beginners. It was something like a danzón version of Zumba and line dance. We men followed the maestro and the women followed his female counterpart. There was no instruction of the steps. This was “sink or swim” while having lots of fun. If you don’t quite get a more complicated step the first time, you’ll do it better when it comes around next time. You must be mentally adaptable and physically flexible. To do this for two and half hours with almost no breaks is a very enjoyable challenge. We also saw another teacher, Armando Sánchez “Suavecito” giving a much more basic workshop. Around the park, vendors are selling danzón stuff: dance shoes, guayabera shirts, fans, CDs, DVDs, etc. What a great vibe this scene has!
On Sunday, February 15, we went to the very old and legendary dance hall, the Salón Los Ángeles. A distinguished danzón teacher, Félix Rentería, presented a dance there with four renowned orchestras, and for an entry fee of only 100 pesos per person. This was a daytime event from 11am to 3pm. It successfully attracted hundreds of people. When you are in this place, you feel history, tradition, and nostalgia all around you. When new danzoneros go there for the first time, it is like an initiation in the sanctum sanctorum. However, it is all fun.
With all respect to our town, in SMA you can’t breathe in the very essence of the great Cuban/Mexican tradition that is the danzón. To do that, I recommend a joyous pilgrimage to Mexico City or the port of Veracruz.
However, you can start here. The Club de Danzón “Mercerina” offers you our class for beginners on Thursdays 5:30pm-7pm at El Sindicato, Recreo 4, 152 0131. Please try it. You can do this! “Mi Vida Por Un Danzón.”