Alicia Alonso showed how passion can defeat all obstacles and how determination can inspire others. Alicia Ernestina was born in Havana, Cuba on December 21, 1920 to Antonio Martínez de Arredondo and Ernestina del Hoyo y Lugo. This technically flawless dancer took her first ballet class at the age of eight. Her first ballet teacher was Russian dancer Nikolai Yavorsky. Alicia’s first ballet school suffered from the Depression, so pointe shoes were on short supply. But, surprisingly, an individual had a pair of pointe shoes that only fit Alicia. God had a goal for her and knew how she would give her home country the gift of dance. For better dancing opportunities, Alicia and her fiancé Fernando Alonso immigrated to New York.
Soon after, they married in 1937. Once in America, Alicia studied under Enrico Zanfretta for twenty-five cents per class. At the young age of seventeen, Alicia gave birth to her daughter Laura. Despite her pregnancy, Alicia improved quickly and was dancing on Broadway by 1938. In 1940, she and Fernando became members of the American Ballet Theatre and toured with George Balanchine. However, at the age of nineteen Alicia started to notice that she would unintentionally bump into things due to blurred vision. After medical testing, it was determined that she had suffered a severe retinal detachment. Over the next two years, Alicia had to undergo three critical eye surgeries. During her recovery, she was able to go back to Cuba to relax for a year. Despite her need to rest, Alicia did not give up the roles she worked so hard to achieve. In order to practice her routines, Alicia would go through the steps of the roles she was working on in her head and marked them with her fingers. After her recovery, however, her doctors predicted that her eyesight would eventually deteriorate into blindness if she continued dancing.
Surprisingly, Alicia rejoined the American Ballet Theatre company in 1943 and debuted in the ballet Giselle. In order to dance properly, Alicia had the theatre lights positioned in a certain way to guide her. She also had her male partners whisper directions to her and had a precautionary wire placed at the front of the stage. After her debut, Alicia was cast in other leading roles and was promoted to the highest rank in the company in 1946.
Soon after, the American Ballet Theatre had to close in 1948. So, Alicia and her husband decided to move back to Cuba in order to open a dance school and company. The school experienced its ups and downs throughout its history, but it became greatly respected. Her school attracted the audience of peasants who would come to see the company’s performances. Alicia continued to dance well into her seventies and insisted on dancing the lead roles. She was the first western ballerina to be invited to the Soviet Union. With her passion and influence, ballet became one of Cuba’s favorite choices of entertainment. Alicia Alonso was known for her flawless technique, but she also had the uncanny ability to characterize herself into the character she was trying to portray. This famous ballet dancer died on October 17, 2019 in Havana, Cuba. To quote Alicia Alonso, “I looked for perfection every day,” she said. “And I never gave up.”