In 1970 a young dancer named Alma Guillermoprieto left New York to take a job teaching at Cuba’s National School of Dance. For six months, she worked in mirrorless studios (it was considered more revolutionary); her poorly trained but ardent students worked without them but dreamt of greatness. Yet in the midst of chronic shortages and revolutionary upheaval, Guillermoprieto found in Cuba a people whose sense of purpose touched her forever.
Recruited for her dance experience as a student of Merce Cunningham, Alma arrives in Cuba during the Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest and is assumed to be an internationalist (friend of the revolution) rather than an apolitical dancer teacher. The National Art Schools are neglected and Alma finds herself teaching her eager students without basic dance equipment. The book leans more towards how the experience impacted the her own development rather than the lives of the dancers in the program, but it is an interesting look as a small slice of life in Fidel’s Cuba.
Alma Guillermoprieto is a Mexican journalists who has written about Latin America for American, British, and Latin American newspapers. She is currently teaching at Princeton.
PBS is showing a documentary on the design and administration of the Cuban National Arts Schools October 12.
Dancing with Cuba on Amazon