Creative Youth Development in Cuba
Children who attend an after-school program in the Creative Youth Development (CYD) field, in addition to their primary education, gain valuable benefits. These holistic programs integrate their focus on arts and humanities with the acquisition of such life skills as communication, teamwork, and leadership. As a result, youth become empowered to explore their creative potential and successfully transition into adulthood with confidence.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School (LADCS), in Havana, represents an example of CYD programming. Lizt Alfonso, founder, choreographer, and general director of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, began LADCS as a way to offer children and teens constructive after-school activities in a safe, supportive space. In turn, these students help to introduce a love for the arts—especially, dance—to their families, friends, neighbors, and the broader community.
Each year, LADCS inspires 1,000 students to explore their country’s vibrant culture through training in fusion dance, in a professional arts-based environment. The modest tuition and availability of full scholarships enable all young people, ages 6 to 16, to participate in the vocational training track. Everyone is accepted; there are no auditions.
Students attend dance classes and physical training sessions that are appropriate for their age and skill level. The program runs from September through June, twice a week, Monday through Friday. Each of the four dance studios accommodates 30 youth, for a one-hour class. One professional dancer and two upper-level students both instruct and mentor their group, to ensure that the children and teens receive the guidance and support they need to succeed. A professional portfolio documents each student’s artistic and technical development, throughout this training.
The vocational track also includes summer intensive courses to enhance the young people’s proficiency. Both local students and those from abroad attend these sessions, which provide opportunities to gain cultural awareness. As their studies progress, LADCS students become more invested in dance—and its career potential. Knowing that their teachers were once “dancing in their shoes” inspires these youth to, perhaps, join Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba.
Students showcase their artistry in multiple performances at Havana’s most prestigious theaters and at special events—always receiving acclaim. These young people are also encouraged to explore their creativity and compete in an annual choreography contest.
The school has made great strides since its humble beginnings in a single room with few amenities. LADCS’s current home, located in the historic city center of Old Havana, is a fully equipped headquarters. This year, LADCS celebrates its 25th anniversary of empowering students to develop their creative abilities and teaching them the life skills and values to become upstanding citizens. As a testament to her devotion to improving the lives of Havana’s children through dance, Alfonso was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2011.
Studying dance is not just learning how to dance. With dance, you study music and discipline. You learn to set goals in your life, to learn strictness and aesthetics. You learn to relate to others, to have a sense of teamwork—and, yet, perform as an individual within the team. And, it’s not just kids who learn: Families learn, and the neighbors learn, too.Lizt Alfonso Founder, Choreographer, and General Director, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba