Mayara Pineiro talks about her journey from Cuba to the U.S.

Mayara Pineiro, a talented student at Cuba’s National Ballet School, is showcased in a new documentary at Dance on Camera

Did you have to tell anyone where you were going?
No. I just got up and left.

What would have happened to you if the police had sent you back?
I don’t know. I know that I would have gotten into a lot of trouble. Maybe they would have stopped my career and not let me go to the ballet national school anymore. I don’t know.

Did you go to Florida where you have an uncle?
Yes. I have an uncle. Because I was 17, the officers let me talk to him. They made the papers for me—everything—and the two officers from Buffalo traveled with me to Miami the next morning. My uncle didn’t know where I was or what was happening with me. He was nervous and he was crying. I was in Miami for 17 days in a detention center. But they let me talk to my uncle after about a week and I told him, “I’m fine, this place is beautiful.” [Laughs] They let me talk to my mom and dad. My mom was really scared—she was nervous and crying, and I told her, “Mom, I’m fine.” She let me stay here; if she hadn’t, they would have sent me back. So she gave me permission.
Did you feel guilty?
Sometimes. My mom was really sad. But now that she knows I’m doing good, she’s really happy because she loves me, and she wishes the best for me. But at the beginning, I was really guilty. I was like, I left everybody behind. I left my career too because when I came here my uncle couldn’t afford anything, so I stopped dancing. I was like, Oh my God, I don’t know what I can do here. I was ready to do whatever, I really was, but my dream was to dance. But now I am very good. I’m happy, my mom is happy, everybody’s happy.

Where were you when you made the video, which is shown in Secundaria, for your mother? Were you at the detention center?
No, I was in the hotel bathroom. I felt like when we were going to Niagara Falls, it was my opportunity. I decided to film myself. So I was doing that for my mom, and I left that with all my stuff.

Did you audition for ballet schools?
I was in Orlando. I went to Orlando Ballet and another school, and I had to pay, so my uncle couldn’t afford that. He said, “You have to stop dancing—maybe later you can do it.”

A dancer’s time is so short—you can’t just stop training.
Yes. I was so worried. I kept stretching all the time. Then I met my boyfriend, Etienne Diaz. He is at Milwaukee Ballet too. He was taking class at Central Florida Ballet, and he asked the teachers if I could come and take class; I went there, I took class and they liked me, and they let me take class every day. I was living with my uncle.

When did you go to the Youth America Grand Prix?
That was around the same time. I met a teacher, she was Cuban and based in Miami; her name is Magaly Suarez, and she prepared me. She heard about me and called me, and I went to Miami. She prepared me for a whole month. I danced Kitri, first act, and Esmeralda. It was two variations and a contemporary piece.

You won the gold medal. Did you then get a job with a company?
After that, I got a contract in Europe. I went with my boyfriend to the National Opera of Bucharest, and we got soloist contracts. It was my first company, and it was a huge company like Ballet National of Cuba with 100 dancers; after that we went to Italy. Then, we danced with Balletto del Sud in Italy under Fredy Franzutti. In Bucharest, we did a lot of classics, like Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Giselle. I love the classics.

Why did you leave Italy?
Because we got contracts at Milwaukee Ballet together, we decided to leave Italy. We wanted to be closer to my family. I can see my mom too, because it’s closer to Cuba. The Milwaukee Ballet is a really good experience for me. I learn a lot; [artistic director] Michael Pink is really interesting. I really feel like I am growing here.

Have you been able to go back to Cuba?
Yes. I went back two times to see my mom. I cannot explain it—I just remember hugging my mom and feeling really happy.

Do you talk to your teachers? I know Fernando passed away.
Yes, it’s sad. Actually, they don’t speak to me. It’s fine. They know that I didn’t do anything wrong, because I finished all my performances. I just decided to leave, because I wanted to leave.

Do you think that they don’t want to get in trouble by talking to you, or do they feel betrayed? 
I don’t know. Maybe both.

That must be strange. You spent so much time with them. Is it sad?
Yes. I remember every correction, everything, because here in America they work different. And in Cuba, we worked really hard. They work hard in America too, but in Cuba, when I was in the school they were all the time on top of you—but it was when I was in the school. Now I’m a professional dancer.

If you could dance anywhere, where would you go? 
I would really like a bigger company like Boston Ballet or San Francisco. ABT. [Laughs]

What do you think of the film?
It makes me remember a lot about when I was in Cuba: all the time I spent in school, the process and everything. I think it’s funny too—it’s my culture.

How did you feel when the school took the prize money you won in a competition? It was 500 euros, and it was used to buy DVD players.
I felt bad, but at the same time I felt good. You have to do it, and you feel good when you do it, because you’re helping; it was for us, but at the same time it’s weird. It’s weird because it’s like an obligation almost. You know you have to do it.

And that money would have helped your family so much. Was that when you started thinking about defecting?
Yeah. But it was a lot of things, because the situation in Cuba is really bad right now. My family was in a bad situation. Everything is bad. I left Cuba to help my mom. To help myself.
Secundaria is at Dance on Camera Feb 3 at Walter Reade Theater (at Lincoln Center).

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