Juan Carlos Blanco: Afro-Cuban Music and Dance
The Center for World Music is delighted to profile World Music in the Schools teaching artist Juan Carlos Blanco.
Juan Carlos is an inspiring dancer/teacher whose creativity and knowledge is internationally noted. He is also a humble man and world class performer.
—Dolores Fisher, Educator, Blogger, Poet, Pianist
In his exuberant Afro-Cuban movement and music classes, Juan Carlos Blanco enjoys transmitting cultural knowledge of his ancestors through engaging community activities that focus energy and express joy. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face and a bounce in your step when visiting his classroom. At the same time, his teaching is not only about fun. Whether it’s dancing or drumming, for him it is also important to take the time to explain and convey historical and cultural context. This, he believes, allows students to gain a well-rounded appreciation of the new skills and art form(s) they are learning.
Juan Carlos was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, where he performed with several professional companies for over 15 years before coming to the U.S. In his youth, he began his performance career with the folkloric arts groups Cumballe and Oba Ilú in his hometown of Guanabacoa, a community of Havana known for its rich Afro-Cuban cultural traditions. He later joined one of Cuba’s most renowned folkloric companies, Raices Profundas (Deep Roots), soon becoming lead male dancer and soloist and touring Latin America and Asia.
Juan Carlos’s desire to deepen his knowledge and cultural expression inspired his involvement with several diverse art groups in Havana. He performed with Teatro de la Havana in a number of theatrical plays including “De Mi Tierra Vengo,” “Maria Antonia,” “Santa Camila de la Havana Vieja,” and “Requip por Yarini” with Arte Popular Theatre Company. He also spent several years working with the Franco-Haitian company Ban Rra Rrá as percussionist and instructor of Afro-Cuban dance.
While in Cuba, he was charged with the responsibility of training both professional Cuban dancers and educating foreign students through the Instituto Superior de Arte and the Escuela Nacional de Arte. He served as artistic director for the folkloric ensemble Arawe that toured Peru in 1997. He also choreographed several productions in Havana, including Afro-Peru, a collaboration with Peruvian singer Argelia Fragoso, and “Trilogia,” produced with Raices Profundas.
Since coming to the United States, Mr. Blanco has been featured in various Afro-Cuban productions in the California area, as dancer and guest choreographer for groups such as Olorun, Alafia, and Taifa. Most recently was the musical director for Onstage Playhouse’s 2021 production of “A People’s Cuban Christmas Tale.”
In 1998 Juan Carlos founded Omo Aché Cuban Cultural Arts, a San Diego-based organization dedicated to preserving and presenting Cuba’s rich cultural heritage of music and dance. With Mr. Blanco as its artistic director, the Omo Aché Afro-Cuban Music and Dance Company performs in schools, universities, and multi-cultural venues throughout California.
Mr. Blanco has traveled throughout the United States teaching master workshops in Afro-Cuban percussion and dance. In the San Diego area, he has taught through community classes and institutions such as UCSD, Palomar College, Grossmont College, San Diego City College, and Cal State San Marcos. For many years, he has dedicated himself to teaching kindergarten through 8th-grade students at King-Chavez schools as well as students in the Sweetwater Union High School District. In Tijuana, Juan Carlos has also taught percussion and dance to elementary students at Escuela Primaria Miguel Guerrero, Primaria Guadalupe Victoria, and other schools through WorldBeat Center’s bi-national cultural exchange partnership program with I.M.A.C. (Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura). His students have presented their work at community celebrations and festivals throughout the region.
Currently, under the auspices of the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program, Juan Carlos is teaching a residency in Afro-Cuban dance at the San Diego French American School. We are proud to have him in our roster of distinguished teaching artists.
Enjoy this glimpse into Juan Carlos’s life as an artist, a rough cut of a documentary by Lili Bernard: