Dancing Down Memory Lane with the Cuban National Ballet

Ballet Dancer toe shoes

Years ago, when I was in my teens, I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

I took jazz and modern dance in elementary school and I was good at it. Really good, and I loved it. I found ballet late when I was 15, but excelled quickly. A couple of years later at the Boston School of Ballet, a series of nasty shin splints and a pair of mobile patellas (bad knees) ended any hopes I had of  being a professional. I was devastated.

Flash forward to Cuba and I’m at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba watching a class with the corps de ballet and my fellow photographers traveling with the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

I was instantly struck by how at home I felt even though so many years had passed. (And no, I’m not going to say how many years). Watching the dancers prepare, I remembered how it felt to wrap the ribbons of my toe shoes, one, two, three times around my ankle and then tie it off, making sure to tuck the ends into the wrap so that nothing was hanging. I remembered the rush I’d feel when class would begin and the pianist began to play. I remembered the joy of dancing, feeling the music, crushing the choreography. There was nothing better. Nothing.

We were there to photograph the dancers, which was no easy feat when you’re dodging 8 other photographers, dim lighting, fast-moving subjects and a wall full of mirrors. I looked around trying to figure out how to tackle the space and not get in the way of the other photographers, the dancers or the teachers.

Then I saw her.

Standing at the barre, glowing from the light that was streaming in through a nearby window, stood dancer Mercy Piedra.

Yep, got it.






~Taken while an invited guest of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops’: Seeing Cuba: Discovering the Culture and People of Cuba: Words and sentiment are my own.

To see more pics and read about my adventure in Cuba

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At Home in Cuba: A Morning with Maria Therésa

The Gift of a Cuban Serenade

Cuba’s Classic Cars: So Much More than Postcard Fodder

On the Heels of Hemingway

Categories: Cuba, Culture, Photography

63 replies »

  1. Are there any open classes at the ballet school? I’m visiting Cuba in March and am a certified American Ballet Theater teacher and dancer in New York. Would love to even observe! Thanks for the lovely post.

    • Unfortunately, I don’t know. I’d be surprised if there was. I tried to look on their site but it’s in Spanish, and I don’t speak the language. Sorry about that.

  2. The images are brilliant! I was wondering as you are interested in Dance if you would have a quick read of my blog I’ve only written two posts up to now however all comments are appreciated on my writing style. Thanks

  3. Beautiful photos! I am a dancer as well and attempted to take action shots of my teacher with little success and hope to try again with a better out come, amazing photos and nice writing

    • Thank you very much. It’s all about the shutter speed. There’s a reason I don’t have any action shots in the mix. It was way too dark to get anything decent. Good luck on your next try. Let me know how they come out.

  4. I took ballet for many years (and now have the bad knees as proof), but still enjoy photos of dancers and watching ballets. The lines of the dancers are always so beautiful, and you clearly captured that.

  5. Gorgeous, Susan. I love the drama and intensity the black and white images bring, matching the beauty of the dancer. Dodging well done!

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