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Customers of Cafe Rumba watch Cubay perform Friday, July 10 as part of the Rumba Northwest festival. Photo by Alexandra Bartick.

The setting sun shines through the window as Seattle duo Cubay plays a rendition of “Chan Chan” by Buena Vista Social Club. Salsa dancers from near and far dance through the crowded dining room of Cafe Rumba, kicking off the first day of Rumba Northwest’s weekend-long Viva Cuba Festival.

Rumba Northwest celebrated its five-year anniversary with Viva Cuba, a two-day music and dance festival that took place in Bellingham on Friday, July 10, to Sunday, July 12.

“Not very often do we find Latin Salsa dance that comes through town,” said Antonio Diaz, co-owner of Rumba Northwest. “We made a huge effort to put this together in a very short amount of time.”

Rumba Northwest is a Latin dance company from Bellingham, owned by married couple Antonio Diaz and Heather Haugland. The company teaches weekly dance classes, hosts music and dance events and teaches regional workshops. The organization focuses on Cuban Salsa, Afro-Cuban and Rueda dance, Haugland said.

Diaz said that Rumba Northwest aims to spread the culture of Latin dance and music. 

“It’s definitely kind of a lifestyle,” Haugland said. “It’s something that creates a lot of friendships and connections in the community.”

The festival featured two days of music, dance performances and dance lessons. The festival included live bands and DJs from Seattle and dance lessons from Wilfredo Guilbiac, a professional Cuban dance instructor from San Diego.

Cubay, a Cuban music duo from Seattle, Washington, played their debut performance at the Viva Cuba event at Cafe Rumba on Friday.

Cubay plays original music as well as traditional and popular Cuban songs, said Alfredo Polier, the lead singer of Cubay.

Husband and wife team Diaz and Haugland started Rumba Northwest five years ago after moving to Bellingham from Alaska.

Seattle-based Cuban music duo Cubay, Javier Maru, left, and Alfredo Colier, right, play at their debut performance at Cafe Rumba on Friday, July 10, kicking off Rumba Northwest's Viva Cuba festival. Photo by Jesse Nichols.

Haugland first discovered Salsa dance during a trip to Cuba in 2000. Haugland later met Diaz, who had been raised with a music and dance background in Lima, Peru. Diaz and Haugland eventually founded Rumbalaska, a Latin dance organization out of Juneau, Alaska, before moving to Bellingham.

“Having this company allows us to connect with the community, to explore what we love, to perform [and] to create,” Haugland said.

Sean Cavanagh, a 2015 Western plastics engineering technology graduate, got involved with Rumba Northwest during his freshman year in 2010.

Cavanagh said he started dancing when he started school at Western.

“I always wanted to do a ballroom dance ever since I watched ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’” Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh said he tried out several campus dance clubs before landing on the WWU Salsa and Bachata Dance Club.

“I just fell in love with Salsa club,” Cavanagh said. “I just liked how Salsa had this energy that was smooth – kind of like silk – where you could really express yourself. You could pretend to be suave and sexy or you could just be that cool calculating character.”

Cavanagh met Diaz when he came to dance at the campus Salsa club. Cavanagh said he started taking classes at Rumba Northwest and eventually moved onto performing and teaching classes with Diaz.

Cavanagh traveled from Kent to come to the event Friday, and he said Haugland specially invited him because of his early involvement with the company.

Couples dance to the music of Cubay for the two-day music and dance festival put on by Rumba Northwest. Photo by Alexandra Bartick.

“Heather and Antonio have really created a tight knit welcoming community,” Cavanagh said. “All these people are nice and fun and just generally good people.”

Polier said Haugland and Diaz are long-time friends of his and invited the duo from Seattle to premiere at the festival.

Polier moved to the United States nine years ago after living in Cuba for 39 years, and he met guitarist Javier Maru through a mutual friend and the two formed Cubay, he said.

“I have been waiting here for like nine years since I’ve been here to start my own project,” Polier said. “When I saw him playing guitar, I said, ‘wow, that is the guy that I need!’”

Polier said he likes to explain the backstories behind the songs he sings to spread the message and stories behind the music.

“I was giving historic elements that people don’t know,” Polier said. “People sitting here, they want to know what this song is about.”

Diaz said he hopes that Rumba Northwest will inspire participants to find their own niche and connect the regional Latin music and dance community.

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