Cuba is known for many things—food packed full of flavor, colorful architecture, a revolutionary history—but one thing some may find surprising is Cuba’s richly embedded dedication to the art of ballet. One ballerina in particular is on her way to further the island’s position on the world stage.
Gabriela is a student at the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, the country’s premiere ballet school founded after the Cuban revolution, where she first started at just 10 years old. A ballet prodigy in her own right, she hopes to become the first black prima ballerina in the Cuban National Ballet and inspire generations of young, ambitious performers to come:
Though all we typically see is the final product, a masterpiece of flowing elegance and physical artistry, there is so much ballet dancers must sacrifice to achieve their dream of performing onstage. We talked to Gabriela about her experience as a young ballerina, and how the dance form has played an integral role in Cuban national pride.
Read on for a closer look at ballet’s influence on the country’s culture—a primer for better understanding the locals and art. Then, embark on your own adventure with your newly gained knowledge and even stick around an extra night in port for a performance at the Gran Teatro de la Habana.
How do you manage being a teenager and the responsibility of being a ballerina?
My 16-year-old adolescent life and my ballet life are almost one and the same because most people I know are involved in ballet. Our conversations are always about school — we don’t stop talking about the ballet. Sometimes when we leave, we try to relax and make an effort to think of other things because it seems everything revolves around the same subject: ballet.
In speaking about Cuba, many people think about salsa dancing, but they aren’t aware of how strong ballet is on the island.
When we talk about Cuba with people from other countries, they think it is only salsa and festivals, but they should know that’s not all. Ballet is such an important part of Cuba. Cubans respect it and take pride in it. They even stand up for it.
Tell me about what people say about the National Ballet and what it means to you.
Cuban ballet is well respected. It’s true that people, rich or poor, schooled or unschooled, go to the theater to appreciate it each night. The locals learn who is who and can even point out their favorite dancers if they are walking down the streets. When they see us, they share their support and congratulate us on our performances. The National Ballet of Cuba gives Cubans a strong sense of pride.
If you were the first Cuban black prima ballerina of the National Ballet, what would it mean to you? For future ballerinas?
I have the right build, and I have good technique. The only thing holding me back is my skin color, but I will show them I can do it. I will not only get in the Ballet but keep working on my craft.
Becoming the first black prima ballerina would be incredible. I hope it would make a difference, serving as an example to inspire those who come next—generation after generation. It’s something Cubans would take pride in.
You told us you would never want to leave the National Ballet. Why?
I would like everyone to see a black prima ballerina here in Cuba—it is my dream to be the first. Being part of the National Ballet would also be an amazing opportunity to travel and get to know the world.
What is the best thing about ballet? What is it that makes all the sacrifices worthwhile?
When [the audience] leaves satisfied with what they saw, that gives me pride. And the best thing about dancing for me, personally, is that I can be myself. When I dance, the expression is what comes through the most. When I enjoy it, the audience enjoys what I perform on stage because they feel it and take [it] with them.
Gabriella’s story is one of many you’ll find on this unique island, and stands as a strong example of the one-of-a-kind adventures that await you in Cuba. If you’re anxious about the travel requirements, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with our Cuban travel tips, and a cruise to Cuba means you can leave sorting out most of the details to us.
Find your perfect trip to Cuba — ranging from 4- to 8-nights and departing from Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, FL — here.