When you think of Cuba, you think of Latino dancing, Cuban cigars, and Fidel Castro. Rarely you think of Cuban ballerinas as one of the first associations. But Cuba is home to some of the best ballet dancers in the world.
Cuban ballet dancers have been part of so many different schools and companies, which shows just how much the fundamental concepts of Cuban dance are popular. Cuban ballerinas strive with a resilience and elegance that you rarely see in the modern ballet. And same as Cuban baseball players, their ballet dancers have made an international mark around the world.
New York City-based photographer, Omar Robles, wanted to show the world just how great these ballerinas are. So, he went on a two week trip to Cuba, where he had a chance of photographing some of these street ballerinas. He made that trip in 2016, and two years later, he is still photographing ballerinas in Cuba and all over the world.
Falling in love with Cuba
Omar grew up in Puerto Rico, and as a child, he always had an affinity for visual and physical storytelling. And Cuba has always been on his mind, since Cuba and his native country have always had a tie culturally.
From strangers to ballerinas
The photographer first started taking photos of strangers in the streets of Chicago. He has always had a knack for taking pictures on the streets, which he believes is the most natural habitat. Once he moved to New York, he connected with a dancer, and began his career of photographing ballerinas against the backdrop of rough city streets.
How it all started?
Once he got to Cuba, Omar took a photo of Javier Rojas, a male ballet dancer. He was his first of the Cuban Ballerinas. Rojas showed the photo to some of his friends, and they got involved as well. And the project of taking photos of ballerinas in Cuba got underway.
Not everyone can be a dancer in Cuba
One of the reasons why Cuban ballerinas are so successful, and so great, is that there are strict rules about it. There are so many stories about dancers from Cuba, but most importantly, they all talk about how their training is so strict and subsidized by the Government. Basically, if you want to be a dancer in Cuba, you have to and can study it.
It was not easy to find ballerinas
Even before Omar made his trip to Cuba, he was looking for ballerinas to photograph. He tried to schedule a couple of ballerinas. However, it was extremely hard, and he had to rely on a few connections alone because of the lack of social media and internet accessibility in Cuba. He talked to some of his ballet dancers friends in USA, who contacted their friends in Cuba.
It started with two dancers, but got a lot more
Once Omar got in touch with Cuban ballerinas, he managed to get only 2 connections thanks to his friends in USA. And those were his only two contacts coming in. He was scared, because he had a two week project, and only two ballet dancers.
Dancers reaching out to him
Once he set the ball in motion with the first two ballerinas, they started showing to picture to friends, and friends of friends. And then, other ballet dancers started to reach out to him, and he was able to shoot a total of nine dancers.
It takes a lot of time to get a picture
If you think that taking photos of Cuban ballerinas is easy, or taking photos of any ballerina is easy, think again. Robles spends between 1 and 3 hours on each photo session. And that depends on the person he is shooting, and on the day (climate, weather conditions and so on).
Robles has a background in miming and visual arts, which helps him to quickly identify the strength of each dancer. However, he says that dancers usually know their bodies best, and that he allows them to suggest ideas during a shot. He has a clear idea of what he wants, and guides them through that.
Cuba in his mind
When he visited Cuba, Omar was struck by the pride of the artist, but also the sensibility that people have towards each other. He notes that “the way the culture moves and the way the people talk, you have a sense that you are talking to highly educated people”. And that is what makes Cuba a magical place to be and visit.
Art is a way to express our feelings
Omar left Cuba with a big chunk of his heart in the beautiful island. And he believes that the people make a place special. But most importantly, he wants to stress that art is a way for us to express all of our feelings. And when you have a culture that is literate in how to do that, you have a culture that is more understanding of human beings.