It's Time to Get Acquainted with Cuba

The Malpaso Dance Company has officially landed in the United States.

And according to my sources, their landing is no secret. The performance at Dance Place in Washington is sold out, and two weeks before their arrival, newspapers and magazines were contacting the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh asking for more information.

When I contacted the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to find out more about the theater's interest in Cuba, and how they discovered Malpaso, Janera Soloman, the Executive Director, told me that Cuba was always on her radar. She wanted to find a way to bring Cuban artists to Pittsburgh, and to send American artists to Cuba within a frame of social justice. "Cuba is a place to take artists," she said. And she wanted to take part in that exchange.

Much like the people to people exchanges offered by the United States as a way by which Americans can travel to Cuba, the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh is participating in what resembles an artist's exchange. They are holding a community dance class and an artist's lunch with Malpaso, so that local artists have the opportunity to meet the Cuban dancers. They are including a post-performance discussion after Friday's performance, and on Saturday night, they are hosting "Afrobeat," which translates to a sort-of Pittsburgh meets Cuba dance party.
And who wouldn't want to go to a dance party with Cuba?

What Soloman hopes to do with Malpaso in Pittsburgh this week, is to spark the curiosity of the neighborhood. "People's senses get dulled," she said. "I want to try and awaken those dulled senses by offering something new."

And Cuba, as every American already knows, is something completely new.

On a Tuesday morning, as I counted down the cold days until I see Malpaso in Washington, I walked into Trade Roots in the Westover neighborhood of my home county of Arlington. Trade Roots is an eclectic little spot-offering coffee and scones as well as artisan scarves, jewelry, notebooks, pottery from around the world. When I mentioned Cuba, the owner asked me about artists in Cuba: Did I know any? Could I perhaps inquire about whether or not street artists would be interested in participating in a fair trade with our little coffee shop in Arlington?

You see, now everyone wants a piece of Cuba.

To answer her question, yes, of course I know artists in Cuba because it's hard not to know artists in Cuba. Artistic creativity has sustained the Cubans -- it is one of the main outlets that Cubans have had, given their isolation, given the fall of the Soviet Union and the Special Period. Ever seen a functional lamp inside of a recycled tube of toothpaste? If you haven't, you will.

(Come to Cuba).

Now is the time to become acquainted with Cuba. Read the Cuban authors, listen to the Cuban musicians, go see Malpaso perform in one of their three cities, or if you're in New York in April, attend the Havana Film Festival.

And if you're in South Florida, lend an ear to the wind and look up at the clouds because you've never been far away from Cuba.

That 90 miles just makes the heart grow fonder.