Ever since diplomatic relations were reestablished between Cuba and the U.S. back in 2014, people have been wondering what increased cultural exchange might mean for Cuban ballet. This week, it was announced that Catherine Conley, a dancer from Chicago's Ruth Page Center for the Arts, was invited to train at Cuban National Ballet School. The eighteen-year-old will start studying full time under the school's director, Ramona de Saa, this summer after she graduates from high school.
Cuban National Ballet School is one of the largest and most esteemed classical ballet schools in the world, and has produced dance legends from Carlos Acosta to José Manuel Carreño. But though U.S. dancers have participated in workshops and festivals at the school, long-term opportunities for exchange and training have been extremely limited.
A Michigan native, Conley has trained at the Ruth Page Center for more than 10 years, and attended summer intensives at The Royal Ballet, Boston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. She caught de Saa's eye while participating in a groundbreaking exchange program between Cuban National Ballet School and Ruth Page Center that started in 2015. The program, called “Chicago Y Cuba: The International Dance Experience," featured joint classes and performances in Havana and Chicago.
Training in Cuba is the opportunity of a lifetime for Conley, and her experience is another sign of changing circumstances and increased opportunities for collaboration. We'll be keeping our eyes on the young dancer as she embarks on this adventure.