Chinese get to know Cuba through salsa

Updated: 2014-07-21 11:49

By Li Jing in Beijing (China Daily USA)

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About 30 Chinese salsa dance enthusiasts will set out for Cuba in September. Their 10-day journey is for an intensive certification process, but there may be some sun and fun on the beach as well.

It's the third time Geovany Gonzalez has sent Chinese enthusiasts to experience salsa in Cuba since 2013.

"They will learn from Cubans who perform and teach the dance the way that made it famous 50 years ago," Gonzalez said, bouncing in his chair and slapping his arms to demonstrate the rhythm.

"Salsa means 'sauce' in either English or Spanish," he explained. "It is a mix of chopped vegetables or fruit, especially tomatoes, onions and chili peppers, used as a condiment. The dance is as tasty as the sauce, neither of which is for show but, rather, spontaneous and natural."

Gonzalez is a Cuban who has been in Beijing for almost 10 years to promote Cuba's culture.

Early in 2008, Gonzalez hosted free salsa classes for about 40 people in his Guantanamera nightspot in Beijing.

"Chinese love to learn salsa because it's very different from their traditions," he said. "They have opened their minds and souls to things from Cuba."

While this Latin dance has long had a solid following in China, the Cuban style is a bit different from what most people see on the international stage.

It's a little looser in style, Gonzalez said, and it doesn't have the syncopated rhythm - in which a normally weak beat is stressed - that sets the real samba apart.

"Many people mistake salsa for New York salsa, thinking the dance was born in the United States. But salsa has its roots firmly based in the Afro-Spanish musical traditions of Cuba," he said, anxious to defend the authenticity of the Cuban culture. "I want more Chinese to experience 'the mother' of the style from Cuba."

Gonzalez first came to China in 2004 for a holiday, when he was a member of the pop band David Blanco. He played bass and also worked as the band's agent. "I got the band on shows and tour performances and bolstered its rise to stardom," he said.

Gonzalez's talent in business blossomed and he then studied marketing.

"Musicians are emotional and I am no exception," the 40-year-old said. "I wanted to make some life changes."

He got married in China and settled in Beijing. When he found it hard to get a job without a Chinese background, he made himself his own boss to get work.

Huo Yaohui, one of Gonzalez's first Chinese friends when he started his life in China, has worked with him for years. Huo said Gonzalez is smart and creative, full of fresh ideas.

"He is a true perfectionist," Huo said. "He stays at a job around the clock, until the work is done." Huo is the only Asian to have won gold in salsa at the International Festival of Popular Dance of Cuba and is credited with bringing Cuban salsa dancing to Beijing.

By 2006, Gonzalez owned two companies - an advertising agency for Chinese companies opening businesses in Latin America and a restaurant offering Cuban food, art and live music.

"I love Cuba and its culture," Gonzalez said. "I believe opportunities occur when more people get to know it."

In 2013, Gonzalez started managing the Latin American and Caribbean Center, an arts and media hub that attracts a mix of cultures from a hemisphere away. Additionally, it offers Spanish language courses for children during summer and winter holidays.

In 2014, Gonzalez cut deals to tour shows with Ballet Nacional de Cuba. "The ballet company was founded by Alicia Alonso, a legendary Cuban prima ballerina and choreographer, and marks the highest level of Cuban ballet dancing," he said.

The company will embark on a tour across 15 Chinese cities in December. "Alonso will come along as well. She is Cuba's treasure," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez's impressive background in both Chinese and Cuban cultural circles has made him sensitive to the interests and needs of both peoples.

His next project is a Chinese website,, a new niche for tourism. The website is specially designed for Chinese tourists, with detailed online guidance covering all aspects of touring Cuba. It also features an interactive section, where tourists can share their experiences and get expert advice and answers to questions about visits.

"Chinese have a clear idea of France," Gonzalez said. "But ask about Cuba? It's a mystery. Some only think of Fidel Castro and cigars. But we have a lot more to share, from magnificent seascapes to multi-ethnic cultures."

Gonzalez is already planning similar websites featuring other Latin American countries.

"I don't see these as a business. I promote it because I love it and it is my dream," he said.

(China Daily USA 07/21/2014 page3)