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Flamenco students at Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba. Photo by Toba Singer

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba's downtown Havana studios are on a plaza where you see few tourists. A historic landmark, the building is now where 1,300 dance students learn the Cubanismo style, 30 of them in its academic program. Artistic director Lizt Alfonso trained in classical ballet at Cuba's National School of the Arts, but not endowed with what Cubans call condiciones, a "ballet body," she dreamed of putting all Cuban dance styles onstage in one evening. To critics, her project was overreaching, but Alfonso turned a deaf ear to the word "can't."

Laura Alonso, respected teacher and daughter of eponymous ballet figures Alicia and Fernando Alonso, liked her idea. Having hired Alfonso to teach, Alonso also provided her rehearsal space. Cuba's then-President Fidel Castro saw a performance, and enthusiastic, intervened to remodel the building Alfonso wanted. Besides studios, the building, with its brightly painted walls, has a costume shop, classrooms, a cafeteria, gym, recording studio and offices, and a terrace café. From LADC, specialists in dance, music, costume and stagecraft send company tours to New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

I asked Alfonso how the school is organized.

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Students preparing for a performance at the school in Portugal. Photo by Tomé Gonçalves, courtesy of Toba Singer

Cuban-born Annarella Roura Sánchez began her ballet studies at Academia de las Artes Vicentina de la Torre in Camagüey, Cuba. From there, she joined the youth ballet at the Alberto de Paz y Mateos Theater in Venezuela. Years later, she landed in Portugal and became licensed to teach classical ballet and the performing arts and started the Academy of Ballet and Dance in Lisbon. "I learned Portuguese and made the decision to take my dream of having my own Cuban-style school, like those I attended, to Portugal."

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