Where are you from? When did you first know you wanted to dance?
I was raised in New York City along with another Ballet Hispánico alumna, my sister, Nancy. I met Tina Ramirez the summer of 1967 when Tina started Operation High Hopes where children studied flamenco, jazz and ballet, in addition to singing in a choir. I joined Ballet Hispánico when I was twelve years old in 1970.
I don’t think I ever said, “I want to dance” in a formal way. It just always felt natural to move to music and express myself through movement.
What was your audition like for the Company?
I laugh thinking of an audition process; I remember just being part of the Company. It was very much a familial feeling at the time. We spent more time with each other than we did with our own families!
What was it like when you first started dancing with Ballet Hispánico?
Ballet Hispánico at that time was made up of Tina and two other women, Natsu Ifill and Josephine Irvine. It was a huge learning experience for all of us. While they were learning how to write grants to provide funds for us, we were learning how to dance, but more importantly, we were learning how to be professional artists. We were teenagers who were disciplined. We learned to always be prepared, to have our props ready, to have our costumes set out, to test out the stage, and to adjust to whichever audience we were going to be performing for that day.
Whether it was a nursing home, prison, or theater, we performed with the same preparation and discipline. How can that not affect you for the rest of your life? Preparation and follow through in your work is something that is always valued. Plus, we would get docked five dollars for each mistake we made in a performance! Trust me, you learned not to do that again.
When and where were your favorite performances with Ballet Hispánico?
I would have to say that my favorite performance was the summer dance festival at the Delacorte Theater. It was a magical setting in Central Park. We knew the audience wanted to be there. They had waited in line most of the day. This made us feel very special. Everyone was so glad and grateful to be there.
Were you able to work with any notable choreographers?
We worked with so many incredible choreographers, but I would have to say that Anna Sokolow was my favorite. I loved how she worked somewhat methodically and with a sense of humor. She introduced us to Granados music and to the paintings of Goya. She really made paintings come to life for us.
What did you learn from Tina? Did she have any specific sayings you remember
There are so many sayings Tina used to say to us. She always asked so much of us and in turn, it made us think of ourselves differently. She made us see that we were capable of so much more and that feeling has never left me.
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 directed a show at La Guardia High School of Performing Arts and met so many dancers on their way up and I can say that dance has changed. There are more dancers now that are physically exemplary, so technique is not the game changer as it was back then. For me, it is the storytelling aspect of dance that is the most magical part of dance, and all the arts. To tell a story through music and movement is a universal form of communication and does not need any translation.
When we started, dance companies helped each other in extraordinary ways. Alvin Ailey gave us full scholarships to take whatever classes we wanted when they were on 59th street. Who does that now? Companies gave free tickets to dancers so that they could expand their understanding of all the arts. There was a beautiful generosity of spirit and effort to grow the culture together and not just for ourselves.
I think the universality of dance can continue to expand and grow together now more than ever. It is a beautiful art form that provides life lessons that never leave you. As a matter of fact, I think dance focuses and reinforces responsibility, preparation, and rigor which helps create good citizens.