El Gran Palenque is home to the world-renowned dance troupe Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. Opened in 1997, it has its origins in the Patio de la Rumba, founded in 1982 by folklorist Rogelio Martínez Furé. Performances come from members of the Conjunto and invited guests, and take place in the large outdoor patio.
Every Saturday afternoon the troupe hosts the Sábado de la Rumba, a mesmerizing show of Afro-Cuban religious and secular dance and drumming at El Gran Palenque in Vedado. Unless you are 100% “patón” (literally having large feet, but really meaning stiff), you can expect the three hours of rumba, guaguancó and yambú to get you moving. In fact it is virtually impossible to stop your body from beginning to sway and your feet moving to the rhythm of the congas. Although on the tourist map this remains refreshingly a-lo-Cubano.
It’s three full hours of rumba (not the ballroom dance, mind you!) guaguancó and yambú. Quickly, the atmosphere is energized and you feel your blood rushing through your veins and your heart racing. Inadvertently, your body begins to sway and your feet move to the rhythm of the congas. There’s no age limit here and the dance floor is open to all. Visitors, whether from the island or from overseas, who are introduced for the first time to Afro-Cuban rhythms are guided by members of the dance company. Passersby can’t avoid the noise coming from inside and, out of curiosity, come into El Palenque, unaware that they will probably stay until the end and most likely come back for more! The mixed bill changes regularly and the atmosphere is almost always hot. Expect a strong, loyal crowd of Cuban regulars, hustlers included. Guests have included Yoruba Andabo, Clave and Guaguancó, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, and other groups that revive old rumbas from colonial days, yambú, columbia and the popular guaguancó, which only needs a bottle, a drawer and a spoon to make music and a Cuban to shed the daily routine of life dancing in any patio, street or park.
The crowd is mixed with everyone from German tourists to Cuban babalawaos & santeros (Santeria adherants), grandmothers, kids and the local neighbours as well as the odd know it all students.