This year, for the 13th annual Ifé-Ilé Afro-Cuban Dance and Music Festival, Neri Torres returns with family and friends to present a workshop in the full spectrum of Afro-inspired dance and drumming from her native country. Cuban dance and music carry histories — of the West African traditions brought to the island during the slave trade, the sacred forms that found their way into popular culture, the blending of African and European influences, and the continuing evolution of Cuban culture on the island and around the world.
Torres and her crew are not only teachers, but also sought-after choreographers and performers. Because Ifé-Ilé has been so busy this year teaching and touring, the festival almost didn’t happen. But thanks to overwhelming demand, the festival returns for one jam-packed day on Aug. 13. The classes promise deep cultural immersion and a good sweat for both experienced and newly curious dancers and drummers. The night will end at Cuba Ocho in Little Havana, with a performance jam that ties it all together on stage. Classes can be taken individually or as a whole package, and if you’re too shy to dance or drum, you can buy a ticket to watch. To see the full schedule, visit http://www.ife-ile.org/festival.htm.
Torres spoke with us recently about the festival, and her work as a teacher and dancer.
Do you live in Miami?
I do live in Miami. However, I started to travel to the University of West Indies where I am a guest lecturer. I love Miami because it reminds me of the weather in Cuba as well as the people and of course the food.
What are your goals for the Ifé-Ilé festival?
To develop cross-cultural understanding, and to educate community members and visitors about Afro-Cuban traditions and their universal contribution to the arts.
What motivates you to present the festival every year?
We want to contribute to the preservation and cultivation of the heritage of Afro-Cubans, and to build bonds and cultural understanding between different communities — dance is the perfect vehicle to promoting tolerance in the world.
This is a family project, isn’t it?
Well, it involves some of my family members — my nieces are dancers and my nephews are drummers and singers — but also dedicated dancers and musicians that contribute with their talents to the organization.
How did your family come to be so deeply involved in cultural work?
I started to dance because my parents were taking me to dance events, particularly the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Later my late brother-in-law introduced me to a deeper world of dance. My nieces just followed my steps. Both (Deyanira and Nemesis) graduated form Escuela Nacional de Artes Dramaticas in the specialty of dance. My brother starter to drum at an early age (traditional Afro-Cuban percussion, focused on bata drums). His two sons, my nephews, also learned the tradition.
What traditions will you be teaching?
Sacred Orisha dances, rumba (Guaguanco, Yambue), Cuban Congo-rooted dances (Palo, Yuka, Makuta) and social dances such as son and salsa.
Which of the dances do you connect with the most?
I would say all of them, since each helped shaped our people’s idiosyncrasy and portray the joie de vivre of the Cubans.
How about the drumming classes?
Drumming this year will focus on dancers to help them understand the intricate Afro-cuban rhythms and its application in dance.
What projects are you currently working on, outside of the festival?
I am working on a tour in Canada, a paper about Santeria to be presented at a conference at the Florida Memorial University, teaching at the University of West Indies, a presentation at the Hispanic Heritage Month for the City of Doral and being happy to do my art.
For more information on the festival and Ife Ile, visit http://www.ife-ile.org/festival.htm.
This article was first published in the Miami Sun Post.