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Cuban children pursue their dream of joining the circus

Cuban children pursue their dream of joining the circus

Posted by Juan Gavasa on October 10, 2014

Inside an abandoned movie theatre on a noisy avenue in a working-class section of Havana, some 70 Cuban children pursue their dream of joining the circus. The circus is a lucrative career path and a rare opportunity for Cubans to make real money on the communist-led island. Cuban circus artists working abroad make a minimum of $1,015 a month, and usually much more than that, a relative fortune compared to the meager salaries back home. Photos in this series were taken between Sept. 25 - Oct. 6.

Aspiring acrobats climb a rope while young jugglers toss pins back and forth, and others take turns on the trampoline or parallel bars. No one seems to mind the dilapidated conditions, at least as long as the weather is dry. Several corrugated tin laminates are missing from the roof, exposing the sky. Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

"Ever since I was little, I always said, 'I want to join the circus,'" said 12-year-old Daniela Rodriguez, who likes training at heights. "At first I was a little scared, but not anymore."

Odelmi Hernandez, 42, who once worked briefly as a circus clown, guides the students for three hours daily at the Havana school, where some students commute from as far as two hours away. Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

"A lot of these children come from disadvantaged homes, have shown bad conduct, or come from family conflicts," said Hernandez, whom everyone calls Kiko. "Through this project, we help them incorporate socially. They also learn values here."

On a recent day the program included physical exercise, from push-ups to chin-ups to running, with most of the students dressed in leotards. Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

One teenager balanced on a board placed over a cylinder and started jumping rope, blind-folded, and with young Daniela on his shoulders.

Youth circus training is fairly common internationally, whether as pure recreation or career training.  Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

"Circus education is on the rise all over the world," said Amy Cohen, director of the U.S.-based American Youth Circus Organization. The Cuban National Circus tours as a company and also hires out its talent to companies such as Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil.

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