Over the past two years I’ve devoted my work almost exclusively to photographing ballet dancers within urban settings. Cuba has one of the top ranked ballet companies, thus why I dreamt of visiting the island for a long time. Their dancers are just some of the best dancers in the world. Perhaps it is because movement and rhythm runs in their afro-caribbean blood, but most likely it is due to the Russian school of training which is part of their heritage.
Thanks to a grant from the Bessie Foundation I was able travel a few weeks ago to Cuba. To my surprise, on my visit I ended up documenting a different kind of dance. I found myself tangled between the rhythm of the ballerinas I set myself to shoot and the cadence of the Cubans in the streets balancing their lives in an effort to make it through each and every day. And I was swept off my feet by that dance. (more after the jump)
Crouched on a street corner, a woman will sell a few packs of AA batteries and cigars. A tiny table at a man’s door becomes a local shoe repair shop. Others sell coffee right out of their own windows. Knife sharpeners roam the streets offering their services. Merchandising whatever little that they have, in one way or another…. anything goes and contraband is a common form of survival.
Ballet dancers make us feel as if their movements where truly effortless. This while pushing their bodies to the very extreme of what is humanly possible. It is that grace and elegance which mesmerizes us.
With an average salary of $25 to $40 per month, Cubans struggle incessantly to stay afloat. Yet much like the ballet dancers, they strive with a resilience and elegance that I’ve never seen before. Different from the long and weary faces we see in our metropolises, the Cuban people hustle daily with an unparalleled amount of pride, selflessness and dignity.
I realized then, that above any other reason, this is exactly why Cuban ballet dancers have always been so great and through so many generations. Endurance simply resides in their blood.
All images and text ©2016 Omar Z Robles. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or use with out written consent from Omar Z Robles.