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. Guillermoprieto found in Cuba a people whose sense of purpose touched her forever.
Eventually, these conflicts, piled on top of loneliness, youthful angst and assorted man troubles, lead young Alma to the edge of a nervous breakdown ... Dancing With Cuba is a pleasure to read, full of humanity, sly humor, curiosity and knowledge ... She uses dance as a lens through which to explore the aspirations and injustices and contradictions of a whole society. It's a fresh and lively perspective ... Guillermoprieto explains that she has improvised a bit -- her students are composites, dialogue is invented, her letters are reconstructed -- yet, she writes, the result is not fiction, but 'a faithful transcription' of her memories, including the partial, hazy, revised ones, and the ones 'completely invented by the stubborn narrator we all have within us, who wants things to be the way they sound best to us now, and not the way they were.'
The book is a refreshingly rhetoric-free, coming-of-age tale about the six months the author spent teaching dance in Cuba three decades ago ... In addition to its appeal as a memoir, Dancing with Cuba provides a keen look at how artists and their de facto individualist natures often clash purposes with the teachings of revolution, where the good of the many supposedly outweighs the good of the one ... Slowly, the author falls in love with the spirit—if not the actualization—of the revolution. But as her personal drama unfolded there, Guillermoprieto met with deep individual insecurities ... Is Dancing with Cuba a story of disillusionment or one of awakening? It’s a little of both. Mostly, it’s a compelling look back—from the safe wisdom of middle age—at the role a revolution played in transforming this young dancer into a journalist.
This lively, sharp history of the Cuban revolution also chronicles an intense personal confrontation: How will the author conduct her days? What lies in her future? Her prose has an odd and beautiful syncopation; it’s unhurried and trim, artistic without affection, on the alert to question and commend. Here are struck the sparks that will result in Guillermoprieto’s peerless reporting for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on the politics of Latin America ... Written with dignity and without rhetoric or undue emotion: when this author flays her feelings, it’s because she is utterly alive and in protest.