(This is part of the Jersey City in Havana Series, multimedia stories produced by St. Peter’s students who spent Spring Break in Cuba.)
By Jayson Ildefonso, Class of 2020
As people head through the doors, gentlemen are greeted by a woman dressed in a bold glittery costume handing each man a single cigar, while ladies are each handed a single carnation flower. Guests are taken to their tables in an outdoor arena where the show is about to begin. In bold bright letters “Tropicana” is written above the stage. While Cuba itself is a place like no other, Cuba’s nightlife provides visitors with an endless array of culture, smiles, and fun.
“I’m expecting to see a Broadway type of show with many dancers,” said Philippe, a traveler from Brazil. “Here they have salsa, we don’t have that in Brazil, here it’s more “caliente.”
Tropicana first opened in December of 1939 as a casino and nightclub. During the 1950s it became a hotspot for international celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Marlon Brando.
While Tropicana is no longer the casino and social club it once was, it has become the most popular tourist attraction in Cuba.Tropicana’s customers are mostly foreign. A table near the stage is 95 CUC per person. The average Cuban makes around $25 per month.
When the show begins, men and women in elaborate, decorative, and sparkly costumes take the stage moving their bodies to the rhythm of the music. Feathers, sequins, and ruffles are all intricately placed with purpose, reflecting and flowing as the dancers and the singers put on an entertaining show for every member of the audience.
“I’ve personally only seen it on movies,” said Jean. Jean and Christopher, a couple from Canada, were sitting right next to the stage.
“I’ve had a similar experience at Moulin Rouge and a similar feeling in Las Vegas,” said Christopher. Christopher was excited to share this moment with his wife who was excited to see a high energy performance full of color.
Everyone, four persons per table, are given a bottle of Cuban rum to sip on as they enjoy the show. Throughout the show, the performers engage with members of the audience making them feel as if they are a part of the performance.
When the show ends, audience members are able to go on the stage and follow a couple of dancers as they demonstrate dance moves easy enough for everyone to follow along. Not only are people able to sit back with a Mojito in their hand, but by the end of night people are able to say they have danced on the Tropicana stage.
If travelers are looking for a more intimate and personal connection with Cuban culture, a performance by the singers of the Buena Vista Social Club at Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro is more suitable.
With a dinner of traditional Cuban cuisine and a night of live Cuban music and dancing, guests will be completely immersed into what feels like the best Cuban house party. Singers and dancers move through the tables never failing to skip a beat.
“ I feel really good when I sing, the public receives our music well, the young people even enjoy it, even though it is old music and we are not that young anymore, I consider it a gift,” said Cuban singer Flores Max. “The youth come here, hear the music and want to express themselves, so they dance.”
Flores Max sings every night of the week. “ The Cuban people could not be without music, it is an element that is a part of our life,” she said.
To experience Cuba, is to experience its lively nightlife. “ Music is part of the fundamentals of life, it helps us in the hardest times,” said Flores Max. Cuba’s rich culture and opportunities for fun will leave tourists wanting to experience more.
For more on Cuba’s nightlife watch Jayson’s video: