Christina Monneron discovered her passion for Afro-Cuban rhythms while working as a Pharmacologist in Sweden. This led her on an incredible journey of self discovery through a deep connection to the spirituality of Cuba. After almost a year in Cuba, Christina returned home to Australia and is introducing the sensuality of the rhythms of Cuba to the people of the Coffs Coast.
Do you remember being a performer/dancer from an early age, or is this something that came later in life?
I have loved to dance all my life and used to make up my own dance moves when I was young, but I danced mainly for myself and got shy when people were looking. I remember after starting ballet at 8 years of age, my dad always wanting to put me on show to all his friends and the family at parties, but I felt incredibly uncomfortable being in the limelight!
Most people don’t believe me when I say I was shy most of my school years! I ‘broke the shyness’ briefly for a year when I enrolled in Year 11 drama upon our family’s move from Perth to Melbourne, where I thought no-one knew me as shy, but I was so nervous performing! I guess that broke the pattern somewhat, and I started to feel more at ease on a stage since!
You’re actually a medical scientist by trade, so how did you discover that dancing was your true passion?
Throughout my degree and scientific career, I tried different forms of dance, like Jazz Ballet and Ballroom, but when I discovered Afro-Cuban dance while working in Sweden, that was when I felt truly present in my body with that particular dance style.
I then wanted to take on board as much as possible, to learn all there was to learn about it. I went on an exchange to Cuba in 1998 to learn from masters, brought it back to Australia to start teaching, and eventually took the risk and left the science life completely in 2003!
I felt my true passion was Afro-Cuban dance and wanted to embrace it fully and share it with as many people as I could, which in gratitude I did through pioneering the successful ‘Cuban Dance Academy’ in Melbourne for 10 years!
It was the sultry sounds of Afro-Cuban rhythms that got you hooked. What’s so enticing about Cuban dance in particular?
It’s the connection to the roots, coming from Africa, the rhythm of the earth and the rhythm of life! The conga and bongo drums and the ‘claves’ (like indigenous clap sticks but from West African origins) make up the basis of the rhythm, which is so connected to our heartbeat!
That, together with all the melodic overtones of other instruments and vocals found in Cuban music, makes your hips sway and your body groove in a hypnotising way. Everyone feels good listening to Cuban music and when you can dance to it, this feeling is enhanced; it’s totally exhilarating!
You spent a year living in Cuba. What was that experience like?
It was the biggest awakening experience for me to live among the Cuban people, who were so cut off from the rest of the world due to their political regime … and yet so connected to each other and their sense of community, as well as their connection to their roots and ancestry through their dance and music.
It taught me that living in the moment really mattered … that there was no tomorrow. I also discovered the strong spirituality of the land from the African roots of the people and became initiated in the rites of rituals of Afro-Cuban/Yoruba traditions. That’s why I now take groups to Cuba annually to experience all that Cuba has to offer first hand!
How did you meet your dance partner, ‘Cuban Pete’ Skewes, and what’s it like working with him?
I first met ‘Cuban Pete’ Skewes when I was invited to teach at the 2nd Annual Coffs Caliente Latin Fiesta in 2007, when he was assisting the main Latin dance teacher and festival organiser, Michelle MacFarlane. I always knew he was connected to the Cuban roots from how he danced to a particular beat in the
He first participated in my Cuba tour in 2009 (and also in 2011) and when I moved to Coffs in 2010, I asked him to partner me. Since then, we have been great friends and dance partners. He is someone I trust fully in friendship as well as to teach in Coffs when I am teaching elsewhere, as he keeps the classes fun and the authenticity of the dance alive. He actually went back to Cuba on his own a month ago for the third time … he’s loving Cuba the way I loved it!
You have now brought Cuban Dance to the Coffs Coast. Tell us about your classes.
The Kulturithmik team and I now run Cuban Salsa and Latin dance classes in Coffs Harbour at the new ‘Dance Central’ at Club Coffs on West High, Monday and Wednesday nights (the old Catholic Club), as well as Bellingen Memorial Hall on Tuesday nights, and the brand new classes at Nambucca RSL on Thursday nights.
Beginners are welcome on all nights from 6.30pm. I also host and co-host workshops in Afro-Cuban rhythms up and down the Mid-to-North coasts, from Port Macquarie to Byron Shire. We have a long weekend of AfroCuban
dance and rhythm with special guest Cuban artists in February 2013 in Sawtell, and once a year I organise the Cuban Culture Tour, the next one being November this year!
Apart from the Latin partner dances, which help people connect to each other, male and female, one of my passions is to empower women in their femininity through Afro-Cuban Goddess dance, and I co-host workshops in this field with Yoga and Meditation teachers in Australia, as well as a Kundalini teacher at a Bali retreat.
We hear that you’re hosting some workshops in August with a very special guest …
Yes, we are very excited to be hosting international Bachata instructor Carlos Cinta from the USA on Saturday 25 August at Nambucca RSL.
He will be teaching us the rhythm and roots of a Dominican Republic dance style called Bachata (whose roots are also in Cuban music). He is a fun teacher with a great sense of humour which puts everyone at ease, and he specialises in the very funky form of Caribbean Bachata.
The workshops are followed by a dance party for all to practice their moves, dance and have fun!
How can people find out more and/or become involved in Cuban Dance?
You can find out all about our classes, workshops and tours via our website:
www.kulturithmik.com or on Facebook under our Kulturithmik page. You can also call me on 0432 509 519 or
Cuban Pete on 0429 466 484..
Thank you Christina.
This story was published in issue 23 of the Coffs Coast Focus