Afro-Cuban dancing with Rene Thompson adds culture to exercise regiment

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is not just the absence of disease and disability, but a condition of complete physical, mental and social well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is not just the absence of disease and disability, but a condition of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

In the broadest and most holistic way of understanding what truly helps an individual or group of people experience the optimum sense of well-being, culture is critical. Some have clearly stated that culture is a primary source of health and well-being. Culture includes, but is not limited to, the values, stories, art, cosmology, ideals, worldview, ceremonies, proverbs, and social rules, by which a group of people live (Mbiti, J. 1991; Tedla, E. 1992:7-26;).

In an article dated September 28, 1995 Norwegian, Kulturminister Åse Kleveland, provided the following “Intuitively, we know that positive culture fosters health – we have always known this. Art and culture are manifestations of mental and social processes, and are thus capable of reinforcing these aspects of health.”

Culture is also a tool of resistance (Dove, N. 1998:516) giving individuals and groups a sense of self-worth and value as a human being, when facing issues of oppression such as racism. And the greatest act of resistance can often be to just stay healthy! I decided to begin an exercise program this summer as a part of an overall plan to improve my health and well-being. However, I wanted to mix it up a bit so that I wouldn’t get bored. After hearing about an Afro-Cuban dance class beginning at Seven Bridges World Market, I figured this is just what I needed. I’ve always wanted to learn Latin dance and with the Afro-Cuban rhythms to nourish and sooth my soul, I couldn’t ask for more!

The instructor is René Thompson. He has been a professional Latin dancer for 27 years 20 of those years as a teacher and choreographer. Rene has performed traditional Afro-Cuban and popular Latin dance all over the world, and in many music videos and movies with popular US artists including Will Smith, John Leguizamo, and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

Rene identifies with the origins of the style of dance he teaches. He was as they say “born and raised” in Cuba. He has been out of Cuba for 14 years and in the US for 10 years – 3 of those in Minnesota. When he teaches the uniquely Cuban steps of Salsa, Cha Cha Cha, Rumba and other traditional Cuban rhythms, “he always includes the “heart” of the Cuban Style which has its foundations in Africa and Spain as well as his homeland of Cuba.” I remember in my first night of class, not only did I get a great workout, the Afro-Cuban sounds and rhythms sank right into my soul and I found myself smiling, then laughing, while moving and swaying to beat. Fun, fun, fun, fun!

Rene is currently teaching at the Cultural Center of MN, Seven Bridges World Market, and Community Colleges around the Twin Cities area, as well as for private parties. For more information about Afro-Cuban culture and dance contact:

Kathy Renner and René Thompson RenéDance Studios cell phone: 612-237-1969 (after 5:00pm).

To explore more about the relationship between culture and health, contact:

*Powderhorn-Phillips Cultural Wellness Center
Mary (Atum) Azzahir, Director
1527 East Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407
612-721-5745 FAX: 612-724-5461

*Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association
Fang Vang Executive Director
1130 North Seventh Street
Minneapolis, MN 55411-4095
612-374-2694 FAX: 612-374-5205

*Casa de Esperanza
P.O. Box 75177
Minneapolis, MN 55175

*BIHA Women in Action
122 W. Franklin Suite 306
Minneapolis, MN 55404

*American Indian Services, Inc.
2200 Park Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612- 871-217

June 2, 2003
The Journal For Community News, Business and The Arts serving the African American community in Minneapolis-St.Paul. Available on news stands and online at

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