Ballerina Loipa Araújo in Conversation with Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra

Photo: James Royall

Listen to the conversation

Listen to the Q&A session

Venue: Henry Thomas Room, Tower Building, London Metropolitan University, 166-220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

Date: Tuesday 8 March 2011

Produced in Partnership with London Metropolitan University

Loipa Araújo, leading Cuban ballerina (one of the four jewels of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba) and much sought after teacher in the UK and worldwide, explored with psychoanalyst Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra the parallels between her role as ballet teacher and the role of the psychoanalyst in the therapeutic relationship and within a psychoanalytic training.  

Loipa Araújo was born in Havana, Cuba. She studied at the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical under the direction of Alberto Alonso and Leon Fokine, and continued at the Alicia Alonso Ballet School under Alicia and Fernando Alonso, Leon Fokine, José Parés and other prominent teachers. Her professional career began when she joined the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955. She became a soloist in 1959 and a principal dancer in 1965 and toured across America, Europe and Asia. From 1973 to 1978 Loipa was a principal dancer with the Ballet de Marseille, studying under Raymond Franchetti and Gilbert Meyer. She has been a guest artist with the Bolshoi Ballet and the Maly Thatre in Russia, the Bulgarian National Opera and Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland.

Loipa’s teaching career developed alongside her performing career. She began teaching ballet in the Cuban National Ballet School in 1962, where she is a current teacher and repetiteur. She has been the Director of Choreography and Interpretation at the King Juan Carlos University in Spain and has been a guest teacher at many prestigious institutions worldwide, including the Royal Ballet in London, the Ballet National de Marseille, the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, the Paris Opera, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Ballet de la Opera de Bordeaux.

Dr Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra is an adult and child and adolescent psychoanalyst and also a trained group psychotherapist. He worked for many years in the NHS and at the Anna Freud Centre and works now at the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis and in private practice. He has published papers on child analysis and drug addiction and is the editor of Child Analysis Today. He has previously discussed classical ballet at events with Irek Mukhamedov, Lady Deborah MacMillan, Alicia Alonso and Tamara Rojo.




“We think. That’s why we dance.

Tuesday 8 March 2011| Posted by Carla Ferrari


The starting point of the conversation between ballet dancer Loipa Araújo and psychoanalyst Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra was the controversial film “Black Swan” which portraits a difficult relationship between teacher and student based in humiliation, ridicule and the attack of the self-esteem. Araújo joined the Ballet Nacional de Cuba as a teenager but by the age 21 she was already teaching. She did not stop dancing but, as she stated, it was through her teaching that she learnt how to dance. So her long experience as a ballet instructor was what drove the focus of the conversation.

In a classroom, a teacher has to confront different personalities. From Araujo’s point of view, what one teaches first is respect. A class should not be a battle field and that is why humor is important. In ballet, many teachers were previously dancers so sometimes they continue their careers through their pupils. For Loipa, the key is to suggest and never to impose. The idea is to make the students the best they can be, to encourage them in their dance. In her own words, ballet is hard and painful, and teachers should sweat as much as their students and finish mentally tired. A parallel with the psychoanalytic process, both in the consulting room and in the classroom, was drawn by Rodríguez de la Sierra who also compared the role of the ballet teacher with that of the psychoanalytic supervisor.

The reputation of ballet dancers has long been questioned. It is said that they are first in line for physical talent but last for brain activity. However, Loipa holds a different perspective: “We think. That’s why we dance.” Ballet is not just about putting steps together. Ballet is about connecting to the world, to physics, music, literature, among other subjects. Rodríguez de la Sierra praised the intelligence of dancers such as Alicia Alonso, Tamara Rojo, Rudolf Nureyev, to name but a few.

Dance has evolved, techniques have changed. Teachers have to keep updated. Otherwise, as Araújo says, ballet will eventually die. The lack of choreographers, Kenneth MacMillan being an exception, is a serious problem for ballet. The Opera is not experiencing the same, for example, where there seems to be more creation.

Finally, going back to the film “Black Swan”, if there is something positive to say, is that it has given popularity to ballet. However, if someone wants to see a more accurate portrait of the ballet world, both Araújo and Rodríguez de la Sierra recommended the films “Red Shoes” (1948) and 1977 “Turning Point” (1977).