Where are you from?
Growing up, my family lived in Manhattan, the South Bronx, Puerto Rico for a couple years, then the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx. In my late teens, we moved to Jackson Heights, but the Bronx is where I most identify with. When people ask where I’m from, I say, “The Bronx, so don’t mess with me!”
When did you first start dancing with Ballet Hispánico? What was it like at that time?
I came to BH in 1970. Actually, BH came to me. Already an advanced student of Tina Ramirez’ School of Spanish Dance, Ballet Hispánico happened around me. In other words, I really didn’t know it was happening - I was 13! Tina’s great talent as a teacher, plus her contagious passion and encouragement, brought me into the world of dance. All I knew is that I was good at it. It made me feel special. Important. Of value. Being one of six kids, that meant a lot.
Although no one knows how or why, my siblings and I are all successful in the performing arts. We would put on shows as kids and invite the neighbors. My mother would make cupcakes and we would charge a nickel. All improvised on the spot! My sister, Rachel (also there at the beginning of BH), would dance with me all the time.
As fate would have it, my mother brought her four children (Rachel, two of my brothers and me) to Manhattan every day one summer to be a part of “Operation High Hopes.” Conceived and directed by Ms. Ramirez, it was an all-day dance training program, fully funded with free lunch! (A no-brainer for my mother, who had little funds and many rambunctious and talented children). There we learned all styles of dance with the best teachers in NYC. That led to classes with Tina at her studio and the creation of Ballet Hispánico. My older brother, David, was stage manager for a few years. My youngest sister, Naomi, was in the first Junior Company of BH.
How did your time with Ballet Hispánico shape your career as a performer?
There wasn’t a moment where I decided to be a dancer. It was something I did. Lived for. Martha Graham said, “You don’t choose dance, dance chooses you.” I agree.
As I had always sung and then went to the High School of Music & Art for voice, I loved musicals. I had only seen musicals in movies. I aspired to be “Maria" in West Side Story. Little did I know that I would end up being “Anita” for many productions in years to come. When I auditioned for the first revival of the show in 1979, I knew I would get the job. I had all the training and the style of dance in my body. After taking over the role of Anita, I traveled with the show to Europe and I planted myself in Paris for two and a half years. I played “Anita" at the Zurich Opera house, and in the musical, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.
I have been in five Broadway musicals - so far - I’m still performing at the age of 63! Before the pandemic hit, I had just come back from a 19-month tour of On Your Feet!, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. I had the best number in the show - dancing, singing and acting my heart out. As an actress, I have been in many TV shows such as Law & Order, Orange Is The New Black, FBI, and POSE, to name a few.
One of greatest highlights of my career was being guest artist with NYC Ballet, playing “Anita” in "West Side Story Suite" at the request of Jerome Robbins himself! I hated the pain of pointe shoes and abandoned them early on. Never did I dream I would be dancing with NYC Ballet! Tina was the first person I called after finding out.
What was it like performing with the Company? Were you able to work with any notable choreographers?
Looking back at all the performances with BH, I think the performance we did at Henry Street Playhouse in Manhattan was a pivotal one for me. It was the first time we danced “Quintet,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey. Five women, each with their own personal story behind the glitz and glamour. I loved the drama of it and the challenge of the choreography and the technique we needed to have to execute it. Another level of theatricality was touched upon in that piece, adding to the incredible variety of dance styles we were already proficient at.
Talley Beatty did a few ballets for the Company. He was the most challenging choreographer I ever worked with. With his technically demanding style and personality, I used my body to its utmost ability and I found that satisfying somehow.
What did you learn from Tina? Did she have any sayings you remember specifically?
Tina Ramirez became my mentor after I left BH. Always positive, she would often say “onward and upward!” I was the rehearsal director for the second company, now BHdos. I learned so much from her. I put it all in my work with the young BH dancers. I was also the dance captain with the original Company. I had no problem telling people what to do!
When I played “Aldonza” in Man of La Mancha at Goodspeed Playhouse (Ramón Oller choreographed his Limon style, I choreographed the Flamenco), Tina came to the opening night and a photographer wanted to take a picture of us. I’m tall and was wearing super high heels. I told Tina, “let me bend down to your height.” She said, “Never! I’ll come up to YOU!” That’s pure Tina.
Dance gave me self-esteem. Tina thought I was outstanding and that gave me confidence to believe that I was too. I believe that’s key for any young person. To find the place inside yourself that gives you strength can fuel you throughout your life. Challenges and obstacles were always in my path, but I knew I could handle them. I knew I was strong enough to make it in dance, as well as in life.
My thanks to Tina. She helped shape my career and loved me throughout. Thank you to my mother and all the mothers who helped make Ballet Hispánico come to life. We have given the gift of dance to so many for over 50 years!!! I am very proud to say I’m an original member of Ballet Hispánico and say it very often.