by Raul Menchaca
HAVANA, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- Cuba is famed for its tropical music and dancing, so it's no surprise children in this sun-splashed Caribbean island get a head start in both.
Havana's annual Children's Carnival gives youngsters a chance to develop their musical and dance skills, or to just enjoy performing with their peers, much to the delight of their parents.
Amparo Valencia, 38, sits impatiently on bleachers set up along the city's seaside promenade, waiting to catch a glimpse of her 11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old niece, who are taking part in this year's carnival parade.
"Here they come," she says, pointing towards one of 12 colorful children's floats that each year mark the end of carnival season in Cuba.
The girls are part of a cast of performers dancing around Haila Mompie, a well-known tropical music singer who on this occasion is belting out popular children's songs.
"It's the first time they are dancing," Valencia says proudly.
"I never had this opportunity. Today there are many possibilities. There are more than 50 children's dance companies and it shows they are well trained in dancing, acting and singing," said Valencia.
Her daughter Ariadna and her cousin Karla are members of a dance company aptly called Paso a paso, or Step by step.
The girls are clearly "thrilled" to be part of the float, which can serve as a launch pad for those who dream of one day becoming professional performers.
Also among the spectators is Haydee Marino, whose nine-year-old son is part of a different troupe, called Los Naranjitos, or The Little Orange Trees.
Her son joined the troupe through a community cultural center in Arroyo Naranjo, a district in south Havana.
"We all like to dance, but we had never danced in a carnival before," says Marino, who also lamented that she didn't have the opportunity to perform in the carnival when she was young.
"As a Cuban, I would have really loved dancing," she said wistfully.
Her son Daibel tells reporters covering the celebration, "My teacher says I am a very intelligent boy, that's why they wanted to invite me to join this troupe, which has been a lot of fun."
Spectators on both sides of the promenade applaud and cheer on the young performers, some dancing along to the music.
Mompie, known as the "Diva of son cubano," a tropical rhythm that originated in eastern Cuba, has been a regular highlight in successive annual parades.
"I am a mother, but I was also a young girl and since my childhood, I have always liked the children's carnivals," she tells Xinhua.
Many of Cuba's classic carnival dance troupes have a children's version, which uses the same themes, colors, music and choreographies, ensuring future generations will keep the tradition alive.