Where are you from? When did you first start dancing?
Hello there, amigos de Ballet Hispánico. This is Maritza Sanabia Coscarelli from Washington Heights in New York City. An alumni of Ballet Hispánico of New York 1982-1988.
I didn’t just know I wanted to dance at a very young age, I did it. Whether be bopping while holding the rail of my crib, or tearing up the wood floors of our Washington Heights apartment with my moves to The Twist, if I heard music (even in my own head) I moved to it.
Luckily, by the time I was four, our neighbor invited my mom and me to join her and her daughter for our very first dance class at a neighborhood studio. To say “I loved it!” would be an understatement. I decided right then I would become a dancer.
Why did you choose to come to Ballet Hispánico and what was the audition process like?
It is more accurate to say that Ballet Hispánico chose me. The beautiful and talented Alba Calzada was one of my ballet teachers at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She approached me after class one morning and told me to be at the BH studios in the morning for an audition. Placing a little paper with the details of the audition in the palm of my hand, she squeezed with both of hers, “Don’t be nervous. Tina is going to love you.”
I was nervous and excited. After a ballet class and some choreography from the repertoire, we were asked to stand by the barre where our belongings were. I watched Tina Ramirez thank each dancer and saw them take their belongings and swiftly leave the room. Prepared to do the same, Tina approached and asked me to be at rehearsal the next morning. My whole life changed in the blink of an eye thanks to Tina Ramirez. The dream I had prepared thirteen years for was coming true. Within two days, I was performing (a la Lucille Ball… fan and skirt everywhere) in my first Lecture Demonstration. Founding members like Larry Maldonado and Sandra Rivera were my lifeline.
The most meaningful part of the story is how this opportunity reconnected me to my culture as a New York Dominican. Until this point, the ballet world I had been exposed to was lily white and affluent. I often felt “other” as I had received a scholarship and financial aid to attend the school of the New Jersey Ballet Company. Now I got to embrace and express my authentic self as the proud daughter of Dominican immigrants.
How did your time at Ballet Hispánico influence your career as a professional dancer? What do you remember most about working with Tina Ramirez?
My time with Ballet Hispánico in the eighties shaped my career as a dancer, actor and today as a Transformational Confidence and Speaking Coach and International Speaker. Just like a loving parent, Tina Ramirez laid on some tough love.
Three lessons that stand out and inform my work today are:
Be prepared: Tina sent me straight from rehearsal to an audition for my first National television commercial. She handed me ten dollars to go get a dress. “You must always have an audition outfit ready moving forward,” she scolded. I booked it and it paid me well for over a year.
What you do matters. How you do it matters more.: Moving, acting, performing with intent and conviction was instilled in me. What we didn’t have in technique, we made up for in heart.
Lead with your whole and most authentic self: Tina Ramirez and those she surrounded herself with modeled this for me, daily.
Who was the most memorable choreographer you worked with at Ballet Hispánico? What was your favorite performance experience with Ballet Hispánico?
Working with choreographers Talley Beatty, Vicente Nebrada, Geoffrey Holder and William Whitener are all memorable experiences that grew me as an artist and a young woman.
The standout memory is appearing at the Apollo Theatre and The Joyce, LIVE with Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and his musicians. These were living legends I had grown up listening and dancing to with my family. When life and art meet, magic is created.
How have you watched dance progress as an art form? What impact do you feel you or your generation of dancers had on the field of dance?
I want to say that the dancers of today blow my mind with their level of technical prowess and artistry. We all stand on the shoulders of brave pioneers that came before us. May we continue to soar while remaining grounded in humble learning and gratitude.
I will always be profoundly grateful to Tina Ramirez for her vision, mission and how she pursued it, and created her legacy. I applaud Eduardo Vilaro, Michelle Manzanales, the Board of Directors and all the dancers for keeping the dream alive and thriving. Olé!