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Since time immemorial, people have been concerned with their looks. It is said that in Mesopotamia and Persia, the nobility curled and dyed their hair, and even dusted it with gold powder or added gold and silver ornaments. Both Egyptian men and women, who shaved their heads for coolness given the intense desert heat, would on special occasions wear black wigs and, making a display of balance, a cone of perfumed oil on top of the head. The Egyptians also invented red and mahogany hair dyes and were the antecessors of peeling with the use of sour milk and fruits to restore youthfulness to the skin. Ancient Greek women loved to dye and curl their hair, a practice that gave rise to an important figure: the hairdresser. During the Empire, Roman women often filled out their elaborate coiffures with hair taken from their blond German prisoners of war.
Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge and much progress has been made in cosmetology and the methods available to men and women to achieve their dream image. Hairdressing and makeup are important as signs of individual and group identity, as well as social status. Since colonial times, Cuban men and women have had a reputation for being very careful of their attire and looks. Despite the sometimes overwhelming financial difficulties, part of the family income always goes into hairdressers or barbers, whether at elegant beauty parlors or modest neighborhood shops.
One of these beauty salons is Belleza Latina. The friendly atmosphere, the range of services, the quality of the products they use and the professionalism of their specialists have made this salon one of the most popular in recent times. The owner, Elena Gómez Meléndez, tells us of their humble beginnings.
We’ve been in business for almost four years now and have continued to expand our services. I graduated from the Bella Caribbean International Hairdressing School and began working alone washing the customers’ hair in my bathroom sink. Now there are six of us: three hairdressers, one manicurist, one cosmetologist and an assistant. Throughout these years, we have become the place of reference for the Juanita Mateo line of products.
The services offered here are many and varied, quite different from other such establishments just a few years ago. Haircuts and coloring continue to be very much in demand, as well as highlights. For this, Elena has three stylists who are able to satisfy the most demanding clientele, as well as being perfectly capable of recommending the best haircut according to the shape of the face, color of the eyes, age, or skin color, among other factors that should be considered before going for a change. The customer, however, has the final say, even when their decision may not be the best one. At Belleza Latina, they follow Coco Chanel’s principle that “fashion goes out of fashion; style never does.”
The beauty parlor caters to both men and women, which was not a frequent practice in Cuba until relatively recently. Barbershops for the men and beauty parlors for the women was the rule of conduct.
Although our beauty shop’s clientele is still largely female, our male customers have continued to increase. They come to have their hair cut, colored, for extensions, for facials…Cuban men are now more concerned about their looks, of taking care of their hair, of their physical appearance in general.
Besides the regular services at any salon of this kind, that is, everything related to the beauty of the hair, we do facials, including permanent makeup and chemical peeling of low impact given the aggressive climate in our country. This treatment is requested by many people who wish to rejuvenate the skin, remove marks and scars and treat open pores.
Adjacent to Belleza Latina Salon is the Giros Spinning Center run by Mariela Hurtado Ramírez, a lawyer who is passionate about exercise and sport as a lifestyle. Created in 1992 by American cyclist Jonathan Goldberg, spinning is an aerobic workout that is performed with a stationary bike to the rhythm of music. Besides its clear benefits to health and fitness, it is carried out in groups, making it an excellent opportunity for socialization.
Mariela tells us about her pet project, Giros.
We have four instructors, one of which has a college degree in physical culture. The spinning sessions are carried out in an air-conditioned studio given the amount of energy this activity consumes. It can be carried out by people of all ages and is considered a sport of “no impact”, which means that there is no physical risk in its practice. This allows many different people to do spinning regardless of their age. Although the exercises are intense, the fact that they are varied, and done to music and in groups makes them fun. Spinning is ideal to control your weight, strengthen the muscles of the tummy, legs and thighs, gluteus, etc. Its health benefits are many and it is recommended to control hypertension and circulatory problems. It has been proven effective in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and controlling glucose intolerance.
We ask Mariela if she has any recommendations to people who practice spinning.
They’re the same for any other sport or workout: follow the pace set by your instructor, use comfortable clothes, preferably tight-fitting to avoid abrasions on the skin, appropriate shoes to protect your feet and first and foremost, do not forget to bring a water bottle. As you can see, it’s really not complicated at all.
Victoria Alcalá is a leading Cuban writer who has won several prestigious awards. January 2013