Gods and goddesses


“He is the grandson of one of Cuba’s most famous ballet dancers, the whole family does ballet, but he is having problems today. I am expecting a tantrum from him at any minute.”



The eyes of everyone in our small group moved past the iron-spined teacher in teal to the young dancer behind her, who showed no reaction to words nor gazes. “Does he not speak English, or is he just that poised, in mind and body?” we wondered.



gods and goddessesWhatever the case, when the music started it was clear: we were no longer looking at a teenager both spoiled and bearing a crushing pressure, we were looking at an Afro-Cuban god of war, and his partner was no longer a beautiful Cuban girl, she was the matching sylvan goddess of love.

He was talented and powerful, she was absolutely stunning, immaculate.


Cuba ballet Havana travel photoAs I mentioned in my other ballet post, I don’t have much experience with ballet, but I’m pretty sure it’s not normally like this. The technical elements of movement and physical prowess were there, yes, but so was an overriding sensuality and ripe humanity that I don’t associate with the stiff-faced dancers of broad cultural lore.


The goddess entreated him forward with cupped hands, which then lifted and slid down the curves of her body, over chest ribs hips, while his movements seemed designed to pursue, catch, possess their goal.


Cuba ballet Havana travel photoBut the power clearly belonged to her. She pulled him forward, then pushed him aside, or set him to wait. He was on his knees, stretched on the ground, then lifting her high overhead, and always the sheer balance and grace of control was hers.


In the end she stood over him, calmly victorious, and we all remembered to breathe.


Cuba ballet Havana travel photoThe teacher, guide of both the dance and the personalities, came forward, eyebrows sharp, something terribly falcon-like in her merciless eyes. She stood in front of him, dominating him from her shorter stature, and held up first one finger, then two, explaining in minute detail what he needed to improve.


So they did it again. Another round of enticing, approaching, diverting and controlling. Another series of movements painfully precise, carefully controlled and deliberately designed. Her feet on point, a feat I am starting to comprehend, and their spines so supple I suspect cartilage (if not rubber) has replaced bone.


It was just as hard to breathe the second time.

Cuban ballet Havana travel photo

We applauded. Heartily. The raptor teacher turned to us “Thank you for that applause, it will help him. He has a performance on Saturday, and thinks he cannot do it. But I will not let him run away.” He stood behind her, spoiled, talented, dedicated, under intense pressure, and in precisely the right place, on this unique island of art and passion.