World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Las Que Son Son

Dance Origin: Cuba
Rumba, Cuban-Haitian
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2008

Las Que Son Son is a San Francisco based, all-women dance company performing a broad repertoire of Cuban dance genres ranging from contemporary popular to traditional folkloric. In 2009, Yismari Ramos Tellez assumed the role of artist director, choreographer, and principal dancer of LQSS. As a graduate of the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana with a degree in modern and Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, Ramos brings her rigorous training, stellar professional experience, and inspired creative vision to the company. Her original choreography draws heavily on Cuban traditional dance forms, but also cites movement from other forms such as tango and flamenco. The mission of Las Que Son Son—to study and perform dance in a collaborative environment—is based on the notion that dance is a vital artistic practice that shapes community among diverse cultures, ethnicities, and ages.



La Clave Reina
GENRE: Rumba - Yambú, Guaguancó, and Columbia
Artistic Director:
Yismari Ramos Tellez
José Francisco Barroso, Yismari Ramos Tellez
2012 PRINCIPAL DANCERS: Erik Barberia, Ramon Ramos Alayo, Yismari Ramos Tellez
2012 DANCERS: Felice Gomez-Spencer, Osmary Hernandez, Jamaica itule Simmons, Mary Massella, Vanessa Mellet, Luz Mena, Nicole Meyers, Kristina Ramsey, Deborah Valoma, Katy Yong
2012 PRINCIPAL VOCALIST: Bobi Céspedes (soloist)
2012 VOCALISTS: Erick Barberia (soloist), Sulkary Valverde Chibas (chorus,chekere)
2012 MUSICIANS: Colin Douglas (drummer, conga), Carlitos Medrano (drummer, conga, and cajón), Michael Spiro (drummer, conga), Remi Spiro (drummer, gua-gua)

2009 Dancers: Stella Adelman, Erick Barberia, Cora Barnes, Adriene Harrison, Jamaica Itule Simmons, Royland Lobato, Mary Massella, Kristina Ramsey, Yismari Ramos Tellez, Mitzi Ulloa, Deborah Valoma
2009 Musicians:
Colin Douglas, Mijaíl Labrada, Matt Lucas, Rosa Magdalena Menendez, Sandy Pérez, Tobiah Sucher-Gaster, Sulkary Valverde, Jesse Weber

Enter La Clave Reina, "The Clave Queen." On wooden clave sticks, she sounds the emblematic 3/2 heartbeat of Cuban music, life, and tradition. Skirts billow, hips sway, and the rich history of Cuba simmers and sizzles—in three rumba dances: yambú, guaguancó, and columbia.

Yambú is the oldest known form of rumba: dramatic, slow, and seductive. The dance displays the woman's coquetry towards the man, with the male dancer in a secondary role. Guaguancó is fast, complex, and defined by the vacunao, a rapid masculine thrust from the hips, hand, or foot—an attempt of the male to achieve union with the female, which she repeatedly encourages then rejects. The guaguancó reflects a natural sensuality without impropriety and is danced by young and old alike. It has been compared to the courtship of barnyard fowls, with its ruffled costumes, and flounced skirts used expertly to ward off male advances. Columbia developed in Cuba's inland hamlets, with elements of Congo dances and Spanish flamenco. Solo male dancers vie with each other and goad the drummers—especially those on the smallest drum (quinto)—to play complex rhythms. Dancers respond to the beat with inventive acrobatic moves. Contemporary dancers add break dancing and hip-hop moves, and Cuban women now cross gender barriers to dance this aggressive, improvisational form.

Rumba was originally condemned by the Cuban elite as overtly erotic, and was danced only by marginalized Afro-Cubans. Today, rumba has gained popularity and is respected as Cuba’s foremost national dance. Elements of it were most likely transplanted from the Congo during Cuba's four-century-long Atlantic slave trade, then developed in the provinces of Matanzas and Havana. Many of its rhythms are from the Abakuá—an Afro-Cuban male secret society which honored forest deities—combined with Bantu traditions of the Congo.

Las Que Son Son's costumes draw on both the cabaret style popularized by Carmen Miranda—flounces, leg-revealing skirts—and the simpler dress of folk tradition from which the rumba emerged. For the last dance, the female dancers cross-dress, wearing versions of traditional male costumes.

The ensemble plays "Ave María Morena" for yambú, and "Vale Todo" for guaguancó (featuring a partially improvised canto, and a group call and response.) For columbia, "Aguado Koloya", a palito rhythm is beaten with two sticks on bamboo and conga rims—reviving the drum patterns and chants of religious Cuban Abakuá traditions.

This piece was envisioned by Las Que Son Son and choreographed by José Francisco Barroso and Yismari Tellez Ramos in 2008, and set for this premiere.



TITLES: Return to Oriente, Banda Gagá
GENRE: Cuban-Haitian Folkloric
Ramón Ramos Alayo
Silfredo La O
Stella Adelman, Adriene Harrison, Jasmine Holsten, Lena Koenig, Kristina Ramsey, Jamaica Itule Simmons, Camille Steneck, Deborah Valoma
PERCUSSIONISTS: Colin Douglas (Musical Director), Tobiah Sucher-Gaster, Jesse Weber
GUEST PERCUSSIONISTS: Jesús Diaz, Sandy Pérez, Michael Spiro
VOCALS: Sharon Henderson, Regina Morones, Aisha Onipede, Morgan Simon, Karen Smith (lead), Christie Wyatt

The first segment, Return to Oriente, begins with a rezo, or prayer. The choreography fuses sensual elements from several Cuban-Haitian social dances such as masún, meringue, kongo, and tumba francesa. "Panamamue Tombe" is a popular song—sung in Haitian Creole—that recounts the story of a man traveling from village to village who asks those following behind him to pick up his Panama hat when it falls off.

The second and third pieces, entitled Banda Gagá, open as a single dancer enters a dark street, and calls out in Creole, "Mesie," summoning every Monsieur, Señor, or Mister to dance in carnaval. The gagá song and rhythm echo her invitation to join the celebration with the call of the lead singer, the response of the chorus, and a tempo that builds in intensity. The songs are sung in Haitian Creole, and the conga drums accompanying this piece came from Haiti by way of the Kongo – Angola region of Africa.

Gagá is marked by its strong rhythms, exuberant energy, sensual movements, and agile use of colorful banners or flags. Gagá is derived from Haitian rara, a rural, street processional with roots in Kongo-Angola dance. A dancer travels from house to house, and town to town during Holy Week, gathering dancers along the way. Small ensembles of dancers merge into large ones, following a majò jon, or leader. Bandas, or groups, compete with athletic and artistic feats. Soon the streets fill with frenzied dancers, and for a week, no one will sleep.

Choreographer Silfredo La O and Artistic Advisor Ramón Ramos Alayo learned these dances while growing up in el Oriente and studied them professionally at the National School of the Arts in Havana, Cuba.

Las Que Son Son is accompanied by a stellar group of guest musicians. Michael Spiro is an internationally recognized percussionist, recording artist, and educator. He is known specifically for his work in the Latin music field, and has recorded and produced many seminal recordings in the Latin music genre. Cuban-born percussionist and vocalist Jesús Diaz is Musical Director of QBA, the Bay Area’s renowned ensemble that plays Cuban dance music. He has also performed, toured, and recorded with such artists as Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobbie Womack, Sheila E, and many others.

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