World of Dances

This post is the first in the World of Dances series, which profiles ballet and dance photography in iconic, architectonically unique, culturally emblematic, rapidly vanishing landmarks or simply unexpected locations, that Kike captures about during his travels.


We are used to thinking of ballet as an indoor display of beauty and masterful technique. When I got an assignment for the National Ballet of Panama to create images to promote ballet among younger generations, I immediately wondered what would happen if I were to take ballet beyond the familiar confinement of the classic theater walls. What would happen if I were to take ballet to the streets of Panama. The advertising campaign, however, had other plans. Typical stage shootings were in mind.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
SLK Ballet dancers Brittany Cavaco, Abigail Sartin and Sage Engle-Laird. Bryant Park. New York.


I sought full creative freedom and I accepted the assignment on one condition. I would be allowed to take the dancers to iconic, architectonically unique, culturally emblematic, rapidly vanishing landmarks or simply unexpected locations. This was the start of my ongoing project across Latin America and beyond, which I have called World of Dances.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
Panamanian dancer Manuelita Navarro. National Ballet of Panama.


I started exploring uncommon locations and eventually fled from the sleek Panamenian cityscape to the depths of the rainforest and ocean. Then, being a specialist in Latin America and taking advantage of my love of the local culture, I looked for the deeper relationships between the dancers and their own countries.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
SLK Ballet dancer Brittany Cavaco. Bryant Park. New York.


While doing this commercial photo assignment, I soon recognized that many elements of ballet had profound connections to my work. Ballerinas, like photographers and possibly most artists, spend a lifetime mastering skills that people only appreciate for a brief moment in time. For instance, audiences hardly realize that each pose implies the use of so many body muscles in the same way each photograph requires the use of so many skills that have been years in the making. In most cases, it takes a life long effort to achieve that perfection and excellence that seems natural and effortless.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
SLK Ballet dancers Brittany Cavaco, Abigail Sartin and Sage Engle-Laird. Grand Central Station. New York.


Like in life, simple is normally best when it comes to photographing a project like this. Reducing a composition to its essence is not an easy task, but one that challenges me constantly. Being able to give the viewer a minimalist perspective, when my subjects merge with their surrounding in an almost magical way, is one of my primary goals. As in ballet, photography sometimes is all about purity, precision, discipline and beauty.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
Ballerinas from the Panamanian National Ballet on top of a “Diablo Rojo”. Panama.

But that is not to say that ballet is limited to imagery of a fairytale princess weightlessly flying over the theater stage. I put a strong effort on each photo that I take for this project to show the subtleties of the dancers character. Beyond the skillful dancer, I photograph the person who has put in hard work, who daydreams about what the future might bring professionally, whose eye expressions show the delicacy of ballet.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
Brazilian dancer Marcela Botelho. Brooklyn Bridge. New York.


This project will soon have the first coffee table book of the series.


World of Dances by KIKE CALVO
American dancer Karlanna Lewis. Kroon Hall. FES. Yale University.


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Note: Special thanks to all the dancers and people who are making this project possible.

Learn more:

Kike Calvo Ballet Gift CollectionExplore a selection of Ballet books

National Geographic Book “Stunning Photographs”

Buy a Ballet or Dance print from Kike:

World of Dances Collection

Books on Dance and Ballet:
Dancers: Behind the Scenes with The Royal Ballet

Darcey Bussell

Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday

Anna Pavlova: Twentieth Century Ballerina

(Anna) Pavlova: Portrait of a Dancer

Dance of the Swan: A Story about Anna Pavlova (Creative Minds Biography)

The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition

Dance Anatomy (Sports Anatomy)

The Dance Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Dancers

American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History

Dance (Dk)

The Ballet Book


Selected Reading for Children:

Marie, Dancing

Degas and the Little Dancer (Anholt’s Artists Books For Children)

Marie in Fourth Position: The Story of Degas’ “The Little Dancer” (Picture Books)

What Makes A Degas A Degas?

DK Eyewitness Books: Dance

Ballet Training for Girls


Meet the Author
Award-winning photographer, journalist, and author Kike Calvo (pronounced key-keh) specializes in culture and environment. He has been on assignment in more than 90 countries, working on stories ranging from belugas in the Arctic to traditional Hmong costumes in Laos. Kike is pioneering in using small unmanned aerial systems to produce aerial photography as art, and as a tool for research and conservation. He is also known for his iconic photographic project, World of Dances, on the intersection of dance, nature, and architecture. His work has been published in National Geographic, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among others. Kike teaches photography workshops and has been a guest lecturer at leading institutions like the School of Visual Arts and Yale University. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic blog Voices. He has authored nine books, including Drones for Conservation; So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?; Staten Island: A Visual Journey to the Lighthouse at the End of the World; and Habitats, with forewords by David Doubilet and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Kike’s images have been exhibited around the world, and are represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. Kike was born in Spain and is based in New York. When he is not on assignment, he is making gazpacho following his grandmother’s Andalusian recipe. You can travel to Colombia with Kike: