Forget about the idea that fat people can't dance. From Cuba, a dance academy that breaks boundaries and exceeds expectations: Danza Voluminosa.
Cuba has an international reputation for producing dance talents, and also for being quite isolated.
'What’s the name of this website?'
'In Cuba we don’t have much access to the internet. We can’t constantly be visiting this... what's the name of this website again?'
Juan Miguel Mas – our interlocutor – became a dancer through exceptional effort and hard work in infinite ballet classes. As the largest member of the Compañía de Danza Contemporánea de Cuba for 14 years, he acquired a great deal of experience but felt the need for a custom-made role; a need that eventually transformed into a life-project. In 1996 he started Danza Voluminosa as 'a space for people to develop artistically and to invent a language, a structure that allows them to interact socially.'
Among those who came to the first audition, only two understood that this wasn't meant to be an exercise class to lose weight. They recognized the philosophy behind the company that 'lies in achieving self-esteem for the obese, valuing these people, and helping them demonstrate that they also can achieve beautiful, interesting things.'
Today the company counts six women and two men, as well as three girls in training. All of them share a passion, and a figure shape: voluminosa. Their repertoire mixes contemporary and modern dance styles with equilibrium techniques learned from Sumo wrestling, and goes from a parody of Swan Lake to the cancan. They have collaborated with a variety of well-known choreographers and, as proof of their distinction, the company rehearses and performs in the National Theatre of Cuba.
People find it strange but they like it – They're surprised by how fast we can move.
Danza Voluminosa, Havana, Cuba
One source of inspiration was the work of sculptor Fernando Botero, which had surprised Juan Miguel Mas aesthetically. Bodies like his could be celebrated as art! Mas defines the body as 'the container of our souls, transporting us around the planet', and beauty as 'harmony with oneself and with the rest of the universe. No matter the figure, nor the conventions, harmonious equilibrium is what really matters.' But fat people do move differently – slower – and if their movements are to be graceful, the challenge is with gravity... and with the audience.
Barbara, a member of the company for 10 years now, likes to remember the nicest comment they received after a performance: 'your show gives new perspectives of life, it makes you see things differently, and realize that other things stand for beauty too.' Xiomara, the most experienced dancer in the company admits in a shy voice: 'I still don’t count the beat on stage – I don’t know how to do it – but I can feel it inside, in the fluttering of my stomach.'
There are people who may not understand and laugh at them, but respecting diversity is the essence of their whole philosophy, and any misunderstandings hardly matter as, by the fall of the curtain, there is always huge applause.