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Discoteca Habanera: dances for sale

My Cuban friends Pablo and Vanessa picked me up at my B&B on my fourth night in Cuba. We caught a taxi collectivo to Havana Vieja to meet another friend. Then the four of us walked a few blocks to a dance bar, called Jager Bull.
The interior was minimal white, animated with multicoloured spotlights. Sexy salsa dancers loomed over the room in a huge wall projection. I ordered a round, including virgin Pina Coladas. These were the real thing: coconut milk, fresh pineapple – delicious!

A few dark-skinned guys busted out synchronised dance steps. We had fun copying their hip-hop/ Afro moves. One of them greeted us, introducing himself as Andy. He danced with me a few times – mostly salsa – and taught me a three-count step in another style. The other dancers were not as friendly, but most said yes when I asked for a dance.   
I noticed Jean’s metallic pink shoes first, and then her warm smile. She was slender and tall, her face dark and lined. I sat beside her and said hello. In Frenc…
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Havana: art and live salsa

By my third day in Cuba, I was feeling optimistic. I had made three attempts to get on the Internet and one of them was successful. I had also found an eerie and magical park near my B&B, called Quinta de Molinos. It reminded me of similar decadent walled estates in Portugal, that testify to the deep inequalities of the colonial empires. You step out of the dusty, concrete cacaphony of Havana’s urban highways, through guarded gates, into a green tropical paradise about eight city blocks in extent. 

The Quinta contains a ruined summer Palace, an educational institution, an aviary and various smaller buildings. Like the rest of Havana it has quite the faded grandeur. There are towering palms and figs, statues and busts, ponds linked with bridges and crowned with gazebos.

You might expect such an urban lung to be popular with tourists and locals – but most of the visitors I saw that day were students with Downes Syndrome on an excursion. When I asked the guardian at the gate about t…

From seaweed to bananas – Contact Improv in Dublin

The dancers were sitting in a circle when I arrived. A stranger, I was greeted with words of welcome and invited to join the end of a class by Yaeli. We danced as seaweed buffeted by waves, brushed by fish... first anchored on rocks, then taking flight into the water. This seaweed dance was one of my best trio experiences, taking turns with David and Fergus in the roles of weed or wave or fish. A friendly jam followed, including dances with Isabel and Jacob.  When the jam was over, we said goodbye with hugs. I felt great... welcomed to the community, emotionally and physically invigorated. I walked to my bus stop with a smile on my face. Though bus rides are usually tedious and smelly in the damp Dublin winter, I smiled the whole way. I got off and walked the few hundred metres home in the freezing rain. Soon I was home with hot tea, a hot bath, and downy bed – a happy body, drifting into dreams.


Going bananas at the Lab The offer to share dance skills came at a dance community meeti…

Rhythms of the City: art, eats, blues : Madrid

Petit Espanish Blues Festival held a warm-up party in the Big Mamma Ballroom. I laughed out loud as I realised I was dancing to filthy lyrics. It was a blues song called Kitchen Man. “Oh, how that boy can open clam
No one else is can touch my ham
I can't do without my kitchen man.
When I eat his doughnuts
All I leave is the hole…”

Later, when the singer Jesse Gordon asked us for requests, I called for more dirty songs. She began to sing a jazz song… after the first verse Gaston gestured us all to gather around. The small audience sat on the floor before the beautiful redhead with her ukulele and joined in for the chorus "... my girl's pussy!" Singing those lyrics in unison was probably the funniest, most intimate moment of the whole festival weekend. I wonder did everyone understand what we were singing about?


Art about architecture Mads is a dancer from Denmark who I had met at Mountain Blues in France. Now in Madrid for the blues festival, he joined me for lu…

Physical poetry – Contact Improv in Madrid

On my first visit to Madrid, I wrote about exploring Lavapies Tabacalera by day – sophisticated art installations in warehouse galleries. On this second visit to Madrid, I discovered the Tabacalera studios by night – a living, breathing art community. Cuban flautist and poet Liz stayed in touch after our chance meeting in Lisbon, and joined me for this contact improvisation adventure. Tabacaleras are former tobacco factories, given over to the arts by many Spanish municipalities. Passing through the unmarked portal into this furnace of creativity, I quickly felt relaxed and at home. Liz said she had never seen anything like it it. To get the dance studio, we traversed a cavernous room of giant murals into a corridor of spectacular street art, past booming reggae and African DJ dens, out into the yard. A few oil drum fires burned, and people gathered around to keep warm, under the gaze of Albert Einstein. If only he could see his two-metre high portrait, spray painted on old wooden ga…

Poetry meets music and dance 2017/11/12 Lisbon

After a few days of catching up on chores, I took a stroll and lost myself in the laneways south of Graca. I emerged at the Mirador of Portos do Sol about 12 noon. It's a large, public, paved area, with views over the city to the ocean-blue estuary. There was a crowd: a TV crew shooting a talking head segment, buskers, a few African hawkers selling jewellery to tourists. The buskers were a 3-piece band … drums, strings and vocals, playing reggae in the sunshine. I started grooving and danced solo for a few tunes – the sea breeze and the distant, sparkling waves danced with me.I noticed a woman quietly appreciating the music and enquired if she was also a visitor in Lisbon. I learned that Liz was from Cuba, today exploring Lisbon for the first time. She had flown to Lisbon from Angola one day before, on her way to start a new life in Madrid. It was easy for us to chat because she is fluent in Spanish as well as Portuguese, so I invited her to join me for lunch. 

The band were still…

Shiny sunsets, fish and forro 2017/11/8 Lisbon

The polished cream stone pavements and glazed, geometric tiles of the classic old buildings give Lisboa an unusual scaly sheen, fitting for a city of fish-eaters. Perhaps the town planners and architects took inspiration from the sea, like Gaudi did in Barcelona... but instead of curvy follies, they laid crazy pavement mosaics and fancifully tiled whole facades. The narrow streets cobbled in dark stone like the skin of an ancient oceangoing dinosaur, often give a glimpse of the sea. Most restaurants will offer you more than a taste of it, chargrilled and very fresh for a handful of coin. My first Portuguese meal was at Flor de Sapadores, in Penha de França. No frills white tile, plastic and metal decor... but i figure if all the grandmas eat there it must be good. I never saw such a convivial gathering of independent, happy pensioners. Without understanding the menu, I ordered one of five kinds of fish. I was not disappointed: two very fresh whole fish chargrilled, side salad and a b…