“En Cuba, se vive bailando.” At least that’s what Puerto Rican-born photographer Omar Robles learned on his visit to the Caribbean island in March. As a former professional mime, capturing movement seemed like a natural progression. So two years ago, he began to photograph ballet dancers, and taking photos of dancers in Cuba – a country known for churning out just as many world class baseball players as ballerinas – became one of his goals. Due to Russian training and the Cuban government’s investment in the art, the island has produced top-notch dancers.
“Cuba has given us an amazing artistic patrimony over the years in music, dance, and visual arts,” Robles told me in an email. “Yet, due to the political situation, it feels like the rest of the world has been deprived for so long from its cultural richness. The world knows that, and that’s in a way why everything related to Cuba has such an impact globally – the world wants to see more from Cuba.”
A grant from the Bessie Foundation made the two-week trip possible for Robles. Before he set foot on the island, he reached out to Cuban dancers living in the United States to help set up contacts. “Once I got there, and shot my first two dancers, it resulted into a snowball effect as they started sharing the pictures with each other,” he said. “I ended up shooting way more people than what I was estimating I was going to be able to.”
And just as he expected, he beautifully captured their gracefulness as they glided through the streets of Cuba, exerting their bodies to their limits. He saw this same resilience and elegance all over the island, as people hustle to make money – another sort of dance.