Black Ballet

Off The Beaten Path in Cuba


Cuba is probably the most photographed country in the world and at the same time the least known. Perhaps 99% of all photographs taken in Cuba are street photography, as visitors discover how easy it is to take photos there without any trouble. Locals are famously quick to smile and gladly pose for tourists.

My name is Louis Alarcon. I am a professional photographer, and I have specialized exclusively in doing documentary and artistic photography in Cuba. I have been traveling to the island several times a year for the past 20 years, managing exclusive photography tours.

I developed an intimate knowledge about Cuba, and though I love street photography, I am slowly moving on to a quest for different, little-known stories, and I’m building a visual and historical memory of the country as part of a long-term project called “Photographing Cuba" (www.photographingcuba.com).

One of the collections in my portfolio that is most different from “tourist Cuba” is the “Black Ballet.” It is a photographic essay about Afro-Cuban dancers who are keeping alive their roots and the ancient dances their ancestors brought from Africa.

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I had the privilege of being in several rehearsals of the group before the entrance was banned to anyone who isn’t a member of the group. I worked using black and white to help express the feelings of effort, ‘negritude,' sweat, and trance.

I considered several approaches to this photo series: a classic documentary-style approach, a conceptual or a purely artistic look, but ultimately I chose to focus on the most intense and energetic moments of the rehearsals when the drums peak at their climax and the dancers slip into a trance.

I am passionate about finding the right title for all my photo series. After a long deliberation, I chose to use “Black Ballet” as a word play to pay homage to the black dancers that are the majority of these traditional African dance troupes. The fact that tipped me towards selecting “Black Ballet” as the final title is that the world-famous Cuban National Ballet has almost no black dancers in its roster.

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