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Evelyn Cisneros: 1959—: Ballerina

Began Dancing To Overcome Shyness

Evelyn Cisneros was born in 1959 and raised in Huntington Beach, California. Her grandparents were migrant workers from Mexico and her parents were very involved with the local Hispanic community. As children she and her brother attended a Spanish-speaking church and were taught to be proud of their heritage. However, Cisneros was crippled by shyness. "I found that shyness was keeping me bound and captive in its own box," she said in a convocation speech she gave at Mills College of Oakland, California. At the age of four, she was made to join a children's choir during a Christmas recital. As she sang she slowly lifted the hem of her dress so that by the end of the song it was completely over her head, safely hiding her from public view. Telling the story at Mills College she recalled, "I suppose that was the first time I upstaged anyone."

Her shyness continued to plague her until, at the age of seven, her mother Esther took action. Cisneros told the students at Mills, "one day my mother took me to buy a pair of tights, a leotard and ballet slippers, shortly after that I found myself in ballet class. At first I was so frightened and would feign stomach aches, headaches, any illness to keep me from this alien atmosphere, but my mother and I had a deal that I would stick with it for one year and if I still didn't want to go, I could quit." Instead, she fell in love with ballet.

At a Glance . . .

Born in 1959 in Long Beach, CA; married David McNaughton (divorced); married Stephen Legate, 1996; children: Ethan.

Career: San Francisco Ballet, Ballerina, 1976-1999; San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Education Coordinator, 2002–. Guest Dancer, appearances include: Monterrey, Mexico, 1991; Madrid, Spain, 1990; International Ballet Festival with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1990; International Ballet Festival, Havana, Cuba, 1984, 1988.

Memberships: Advisory board member, Smuin Ballets/SF, San Francisco, CA; board member, Project Open Hand, San Francisco, CA; spokesperson, Fifth Annual Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Conference, California State University, 1988.

Selected Awards: Annual Cultural Award, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, 1985; Outstanding Member of the Hispanic Community, National Council of America, 1987; Isadora Duncan Performer's Award, Bay Area Dance Coalition, 1989; "100 Most Influential Hispanics," Hispanic Business, 1992; Cyril Magnin Award, Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, The Business Arts Council, San Francisco, CA, 1999; Isa-dora Duncan Awards, Ensemble Performance (with Stephen Legate), 2000; honorary doctorate, Mills College, Oakland, CA; honorary doctorate, California State University at Monterey Bay.

Cisneros was a natural. Her mother recalled to the San Francisco Chronicle, "her ballet teacher said, 'I've been searching for 35 years, and I have finally gotten my ballerina.' She was 9." The only Mexican American in her class, Cisneros was very dedicated, juggling ballet lessons with an active school schedule that included playing on the softball, volleyball, basketball, and track teams. At the age of 13, it became too much and she had to choose between sports and ballet. "After discussing the situation with my parents I knew I had to try to be a ballerina," she said at Mills. "There was this fire inside my heart that burned with the desire—the need—to dance." The decision made, Cisneros pursued ballet with incredible conviction. She skipped lunch so that she could leave school early. By mid-afternoon she was traveling the hour and a half ride to a ballet studio in North Hollywood. After a few hours of rehearsal, she returned home to do her homework and sleep. This went on five days a week, every week. On the weekends she spent entire days rehearsing. During the summers she trained with two of the country's most esteemed dance academies, the San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographyEvelyn Cisneros: 1959—: Ballerina Biography - Began Dancing To Overcome Shyness, Debuted With The San Francisco Ballet, Improved Reputation While Adapting To Change