By Jesus Muñoz
October 12, 2021

Marisol Blanco is a Cuban international professional dancer, educator, performer, and choreographer for more than 25 years currently residing in Miami. She is a graduate from Superior Institute of Arts (ISA) and holds a bachelor’s from The National School of Arts (ENA) from Cuba. Her work constitutes training teachers and dancers in a community level and higher institutions on the Afro-Cuban diasporic tradition. She earned popularity through her learning program “HPS” emphasizing the connection between history, percussion, song, step/body expression/technique, philosophy, psychology, and methodology creating an environment of support, motivation, creativity, and curiosity. Her “Sikan Afro Cuban Dance Project” founded in 2008 helps women of the community with spiritual/emotional support through dance which is now inclusive for all genders with the same purpose. She is a former member of Cuba’s first female drumming and dance group, “Obini-Bata,” danced in “The Cuban Traditional Dance Company J.J” and holds the national “Art Performance Management,” “Social Anthropology” and “Ethno Choreography” awards.

Learning more about her background and community-engaged work

I come from a traditional Cuban family, my family is of African, Indigenous, and Chinese descent. Half of my family comes from both Yoruba and Bantu West African cultures. I went to and graduated from ENA (National School of Art) in Havana Cuba with an BFA in dance performance and I got my MFA in dance pedagogy from ISA (Superior Institute of Art) also in Havana Cuba. Both school programs focused on Afro-Cuban, Cuban Folkloric, and Cuban Popular dances. I worked and danced for JJ Dance Company and Obini Bata Dance Company for about ten years both located in Havana, Cuba. I taught classes throughout my whole company time at ENA (National School of Art), at ITM (military school), and at the Medicine Institute all in Havana through their dance programs and as electives.

Throughout my development as a dancer, I was constantly reminded by my teachers about the importance of how a dream is based on what you are constantly building. That for you to be able to grow, there is more than one pathway, growth is not based on cliches nor prejudices, it is based on an open mind and the desire to learn. The more knowledge you have, the freer you become, humanity is one ancient culture. Your personal expectations are the expectations you will give to your students, that you will transmit to your partners. You cannot give what you do not have, you cannot share what you do not know.

My community work grew when I moved to Miami. My first project “Sikan” in 2008 helped women in the community with spiritual and emotional support through dance which is now inclusive to all genders with the same purpose. Sikan is now a renowned dance project that performs around the U.S. It consists, showcases, and promotes Afro-Cuban Dances (Derived from African roots in Cuba as Bantu, Yoruba, Ewe-Fon, Carabali, and Afro-Haitian), Cuban Folkloric (Rumba), and Cuban Popular dances (Conga, Comparza, Cuban Son, Mambo, etc.). The pieces have been elaborated to express the Afro-Cuban identity through the cadence of dances, rhythms, and songs. The legend of Sikan gives women the ability to break restrictive barriers that society has imposed since creation, while similarly capable of providing harmony, determination, and compassion.

What values do you try to uphold within your work?

Firstly, I am a teacher that loves my work, to educate. Respect comes next, I respect humans, my students, my traditions, and my ancestor’s legacy without only focusing on profit. I educate with concept, I do not educate for necessity, I educate because the world needs better human beings and a more conscious youth. I educate to provide and find principles in my students and to teach them about the value of ancient traditions. To know your future, you must navigate your past and within the reclaiming of history, of land.

How have you built relationships with community partners?

Sikan was a pivotal point for my work to be known in the community, the art of dance is supposed to be exposed, so I exposed it through choreography. I built friendships with my students, and it was through them that my work spoke on its own. It was work that helped them physically and emotionally while educating the importance of the Afro-Cuban identity. Word got around and eventually I was offered to teach in many places locally especially higher institutions, interstate, and internationally. I gave interviews, appeared in magazines and newspapers, and I was exposed on social media, tv appearances, and radio shows. Everything that I had planted began to harvest on its own. I’m always working on something; I am the daughter of Yemaya (Yoruba deity that represents the ocean), and the sea current never stops. You must remember that Latinx dance is still in transition to be part of some higher institutions (if any) around the U.S., so being able to infiltrate/teach Afro-Cuban dance in university conservatory curriculums is a big step.

What initiatives/strategies/methods do you take to get feedback from community partners?

There was a system of evaluation that was practiced throughout my education in Cuba that is also prevalent in Russia where compliments were not given as a form of motivation for students to search for improvement and growth on their own. Because of this I was always making sure my personal expectations were met first, but throughout my career as an educator, especially in the U.S. it was extremely necessary to communicate progress to students as a form of building trust and allowing them to feel supported. This created new relationships and I acquired new ways to approach the Latinx community, to motivate and give value to their education coming from different countries. I built a business that supported my students as a form of understanding them to regain their confidence living in a country that automatically marks their bodies as “foreigners/outsiders/other” as soon as they arrive.     

How have you worked with non-dominant communities?

This is my community, I am who I am thanks to those communities, the communities that not many are interested in. My richness is spiritual, to have done good, to have taken away a young woman from a bad life, to have inspired a mother to keep going forward, to have given reason of life to those young women that did not have someone displaying love at home or told them that you must have purpose in life. Those are the communities I focus on, that is my reign. “Sikan” is a project for low-income non-dominant members.

I’ve had talented students that do not have the resources to develop as dancers. Community work can save lives, it can build connections, it gives opportunities, this work is a miracle, a side of humanity that truly shows our desire to belong, to give, hold and care for one another. The people in charge of this work, must find reasons to keep the work active, to stay true to the cause, to put themselves in a room full of the people they are helping, to get to know them, to understand the magnitude of their work, and how it impacts humans, other things, and the world.  

How has moving to a remote modality changed your project/practice?

Before the pandemic, I was completely against teaching dance remotely. I saw an issue in not fully acquiring the essence, energy, transmission, interaction, vibration, coordination not only of the dance but also of music and the interaction with the instructor. This is an essential part of cultural dance training. Throughout the pandemic I had to redirect my work to find a new platform with tools that could still give me comfort and joy in teaching dance through a screen. I had to overcome the fear of the quality of dance transmitted and concepts retained by my students. Interestingly, there was a big online demand for my classes from students around the world who are still taking classes to this day. The demand for my online dance classes reminded me of the human desire to always move even in hard times, a reminder that embodiment is as important as cognitive/academic theory. This online demand has been a tremendous financial help from which I am considering continuing because of the current uncertainty of our present.