Master of Dance: Kati Hernandez takes the stage


More than forty people gathered last Thursday to participate in an intense Afro-Cuban dance workshop conducted by experienced dancer and teacher, Kati Hernandez.

The event, which was the first of this fall's "Master of Dance" series, was open to the public and sponsored by the Santa Monica College Associates, for the sake of bringing people together to learn the history of South African cultures through music and dance.

The class focused on Nigeria and Congo movement influences, and included live batá drumming, which introduced the ancient songs of the Yoruba people that reside in Nigeria. Three drummers accompanied Kati Hernandez, who had a smile as wide as the Congo River as she spoke about the influences of the Afro-Cuban dances.

"Having Kati Hernandez was meant to simply be a great party," said Norah Ward, 19. "But it has more relevant intentions, too, because it's a rare chance for students to get a taste of the African Cuban dance through professional artists like Kati Hernandez."

Drums, songs, and dances transported the audience to Africa. Students explored different traditional movements by using their entire body.

"The first part was more energetic; dancers had to use the space, follow the rhythm, and use strong gestures," said Hernandez. "For the second part, the beat went down because it was representing Oshun, the Yoruban goddess of love, so the dance was more sensual."

Hernandez was born and raised in Cuba, where she received her masters in modern dance and a teaching degree in Havana.

She began her performance career in Havana and shared the stage with Chucho Valdes, a Cuban jazz musician who has won three Grammy awards.

Ms. Hernandez also had the privilege to dance with Santiago Alfonso, choreographer of the famed Tropicana.

Hernandez started her international career by performing and teaching in Spain, Costa Rica, Bahamas and Portugal. She ended up in Los Angeles five years ago where she instructs Afro-Cuban dance classes every Sundays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for all levels, and every Tuesdays from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for beginners.