Images and text by Ben Decastro

My experience seeing Mary:

Even if we think we can't move the way dancers do, we all dance in one way or another.


Watching a ballerina dance for the first time was like 

This is a creative writing piece that will feature images of Mary – a classically-trained ballet dancer from . . .

I met Mary on a photo shoot in June along with a couple of other photographers. My first impression of Mary was how very unassuming she was – she just seemed like a sweet model and it seemed like it was just going to be another day of shooting. I had no idea that Mary was a dancer. We took photos of Mary into the late afternoon.

It wasn't until Mary took us to her apartment building where I witnessed for the first time in my life a dancer in their natural habitat.



We took the elevator up to the top floor where there was a gym. The gym was more like a dance studio — one side was laden in mirror and wrapped around with the ballet bar — except this one was scattered with what seemed like workout equipment for the elderly. The side opposite of the mirrors were windows The building was more than 30 stories tall. It was a while since I had seen Oahu from that far up. I found myself peering down at Honolulu's patches of fields, buildings, and 

We pushed the geriatric workout equipment to the far corner — every foam roller, dirty mat and styrofoam-covered dumbbell — and asked Mary if she would dance while we photographed her.

Once the floor was clear and we were all to one side of the room. We would take turns photographing Mary.

I didn't know how I should go about shooting a real dancer, let alone a ballerina. So I did not want to go first.

I watched Mary being photographed. I thought of sneaking a few shots in but I wanted to study her – the way her body moved around the light, how it would dip in and out of the darkness. How the movements came naturally to her while she ebbed and flowed from the outside world and her soul every time she escaped into herself with the closing of her lashes. It was overwhelming. And then it came my turn.

When you are faced with a marvel such as a ballerina, it seems as if it was easy because they do most of the work. It was just my job to frame and capture her at the right time. I photographed Mary the way I would photograph 

I kept my shutter speed low – about 1/100-1/250 so that I could emphasize her movements in the photos. I exposed for the highlights so the hard light coming through the windows would hit her like a spotlight. And the light was hard. Everything was perfect. The sun was directly outside of the windows  – it was as if I had a flashgun outside of the window because there were no clouds to soften the rays.

The exchanges between Mary, the light, and the darkness made for an intense love triangle – it was a beautiful, moving performance that I wanted to sit and watch over and over again. As a photographer, I study the subtleties between light and darkness, how they affect objects and people. Usually, the effect of these elements need to be discovered but the more Mary danced and moved, it was as if the light and dark screamed at me. Nothing was hidden, everything was there. Maybe it was because dancing is such a vulnerable display of self.

When Mary danced, I felt like she wasn't holding anything back. I've never seen such an honest act in my life. Mary could have been holding back a lot of things – some emotion or 

But then I look at the way she gazes into the camera – how her gaze is calm and calculated, yet piercing. How could such a look communicate . There is no veil. The curtains were open and the 


I realized afterwards that watching her perform could have been a part of a classroom lecture. I was learning what it was like to reveal yourself without sound, only movement. Every movement meant something and because I captured it, those movements are now immortalized – in some way, forever moving in our minds every time we see the photo. Some parts of her body are in motion and other parts frozen.  Her tattooed hands blurred because because they spun quickly around her body as her hips lead or followed. The motion-blurred photos of her in movement are records of her during a sentence and the photos of her completely still was if she had completed a sentence or phrase within her mind.