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Carlos Acosta: 1973—: Dancer

Had Early Troubles With Ballet Image

At the age of nine Acosta entered a school that served as a feeder for Cuba's National Ballet School. He had to wake at five a.m., then take three buses to get to after-school ballet class; sometimes he fell asleep on the bus, however, and missed his stop. Moreover, he found the ballet training very dull compared to Havana's lively streets, and worried what his friends would think. He began to skip classes outright, recalling that "I started to have problems because I thought ballet was sissy," Acosta told a writer for London's Independent newspaper. When his father learned of this, he punished him harshly. "He beat me with a belt, one time with a machete, another time with a cable," Acosta recalled in an interview with Dance writer Margaret Putnam. "Man, I was scared. I wanted to quit, but my father wouldn't listen. One time I told him, 'I want to be a normal person.' He took me to the balcony of our apartment and pointed to the people on the street below. 'You want to be like them, with no future?'"

At a Glance . . .

Born in 1973, in Havana, Cuba; son of Pedro Acosta (a truck driver) and Maria Quesada. Education: Attended ballet school at Pinar del Río, Cuba, and the National Ballet School of Cuba, Havana.

Career: English National Ballet, principal dancer, 1991-92; National Ballet of Cuba, principal dancer, 1992-93; Houston Ballet, principal dancer, 1993-98; Royal Ballet of England, principal dancer, 1998–; American Ballet Theater, New York City, guest dancer, 2002; guest dancer with companies in Munich, Stuttgart, St. Petersburg, and Athens, 2000s.

Awards: Prix de Lausanne, 1990.

Acosta was finally ejected from the school at age 13, but his teachers suggested another place that might take him; when he and his father arrived in the city of Villa Clara, there had been a mistake, and there was no chance of enrollment in its school. He and his father were forced to sleep in the bus station for two nights while waiting for the next bus home. Still determined, Acosta's father found a ballet school in Pinar del Río that would take his son, and it was a boarding school as well—which would make it harder for him to miss class. Moreover, some of his siblings lived in the city, so he could stay with them on the weekends. Teachers at the Pinar del Río school gave him a one-month tryout, and in those first weeks alongside other students, Acosta suddenly realized that he had a natural affinity for ballet. He began working much harder than he had before, and teachers were pleased with his steady progress.

The school also took a field trip to see a performance of the National Ballet of Cuba, and Acosta was surprised at how athletic the dancers were. "I realized I could touch people with ballet," he told New York Times journalist Anna Kisselgoff. "That's when I started to like it." He gained entrance into the prestigious National School of Ballet when he was 14, and quickly emerged as one of its most promising students. The school was considered, even on an international level, an excellent training ground, for many of its teachers had benefited from rigorous Russian school-ing—a legacy of the cultural ties between the former Soviet Union and Cuba. Acosta was able to travel outside of Cuba for the first time, taking part in an exchange program in Italy at the age of 16, and winning the 1990 Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, one of ballet's most coveted honors.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyCarlos Acosta: 1973—: Dancer Biography - Had Early Troubles With Ballet Image, Rose To Fame In Ballet World, Surprised By Success