Cuba, the Caribbean island which gave us the iconic Queen of Salsa and Rumba Afro-Cuban Celia Cruz is seeing the rise of dance troupe Datway — a group of 16 dancers aged 18 to 32 whose fusion of dance styles with Africa-descended roots i.e. salsa, reggaeton and hip hop is making waves across Facebook and Instagram.
Under a tin roof held up by walls covered in graffiti, the members of Datway train from Monday to Friday, shooting their videos on weekends.
“Hip hop videos from other countries are always (set) in these very beautiful places,” Datway founder Dariel Lopez, aka Chaiky Dari, told AFP.
“We always look for places that are… well not ugly, because for us they are not ugly, but real — those balconies in need of a touch of paint, young people and children who are not very well dressed,” said the 23-year-old with his wild mop of hair, parts of it bleached blonde.
– Afro-Cuba to World 2.0 –
Chaiky Dari boasts 33,700 subscribers on Instagram, a high hit rate for a country with the third-lowest fixed broadband speed, according to Speedtest, though it ranks 88th out of 134 for mobile speed.
Sometimes they go out on the street, plugging in their sound system at the house of a neighbour — an old lady who sells fruit from her front steps.
“Abroad, Cuba is still seen as the country of salsa,” but “here there is also a lot of talent in hip-hop, with a lot of dancers from the street,” said Liuven Dopico, 28, who himself learned to dance “in the street” and “by watching a lot of videos.”
Datway’s idea, however, is not to abandon their Cuban dance roots.
Dopico gives a little insight into the rich fusion behind datway’s choreography style.
“Here we mix hip-hop a lot, urban street dance, we mix it with traditional Cuban music, we combine all that and create something really beautiful.”
Fellow troupe member Paloma Duarte, 23, started off as a classical ballet dancer, then worked in a folk dance company. The diversity of her dance prowess is inspirational.
“I feel fulfilled as a dancer by having all the styles to be able to develop myself and encompass everything that I want to do when putting together choreography or dancing.
“It would be really good if at the level of the state, of television, there was some urban dance and not only salsa and rumba.”
– Afro-Latin Excellence –
All the Afro-Latin fusion goodness has impressed millions — even catching the eyes of Puerto Rican music stars Ricky Martin and Daddy Yankee — who took to Instagram to comment: “Too good #Cuba” about a dance number the troupe performed to his latest hit “El Pony” and posted online.
In the video, the troupe jumps and gyrates to the reggaeton rhythm in sports clothes and sneakers, dyed hair and bandannas, and watched by a ragtag of neighbourhood kids in a poor district of central Havana.
The video has earned them 2.2 million views.
Datway’s original choreographed dance numbers garner millions of online followers and views worldwide.
The group has even signed a contract with a record company in Florida, United States to appear in dance videos.
Not to mention their 10,000 USD online music video choreography dance challenge prize win — organised by Puerto Rican-Cuban Reggaeton duo Ozuna and Ovi.
Ernesto Rodriguez, the director Datway, explains how he is managing the group’s recent earnings.
“We are using technology, we bought a good camera for the group, and from that half of the money of all that was left I distributed it among all the members, I also gave money to the children who participated, the ones who passed by in the video, everybody.”
Datway’s members receive frequent messages from aspiring dancers and the group hopes to continue to inspire the youth as their Afro-Latin dance fusion dances honour Cuba’s essence in the global limelight.