Alicia Alonso: A Life En Pointe

There are two types of people in this world: those who have to move when they hear music and those whose don't. Which one are you? I'm definitely the former. I love to dance; I always have. It's incredible to me how a body can move to music, how it can express complex human emotion through movement. While I've never personally danced ballet, it is, to me,  by far one of the most powerful methods of dance. It's an incredible juxtaposition of grace and power, of strength and vulnerability, and of love and pain. It's moving. So when we talked about doing a box about dance we immediately thought of ballet for the sheer power of its art and use of the body. And when we 'met' Alicia Alonso, we knew we had to tell her story because hers is another juxtaposition. Her story is one of a woman whose skill, talent, and gift opened the eyes of audiences to the beauty of ballet and yet, she herself was blind. 

We first meet Alicia Alonso as a child in Cuba. She was one of those people who had to move anytime she heard music. She didn't know why, she just HAD to. It's been said that she would move around the house, her body moving in time with the music, pretending to be this, that, or the other. When she was 8 her family moved to Spain for a year while her father was stationed there as a part of the Cuban military. It was while in Spain her grandfather encouraged her to take her first dance class. So, Alicia was enrolled in Flamenco classes and that was that. She was hooked on dance. Returning to Cuba, Alicia's mother signed her up for ballet classes and thus began a lifelong dedication to dance. She took to the stage at age 10 in her first performance. From there, Alicia did whatever she could to dance. 

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However, as Alicia pursued dance and worked on her art she began to notice changes in her vision. She began to have trouble seeing. At only 20 years old, Alicia was diagnosed with two retinal detachments. This was a massive blow to her. Today, this diagnosis is treated with much more ease and success. But in 1941, that was a different story. Alicia was scared that this would be the end of her dance career, so she did what she could and went ahead and had 2 separate eye surgeries to reattach the retinas. Each time, she had to remain completely still in bed for 3 months; 3 months without moving---that meant no moving her head, no getting up to walk around, and absolutely, positively, no dancing. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? Alicia tried as much as she could to remain motionless, but she didn't want her feet to forget their movements, so she'd point, stretch, and move only her feet. After her bandages finally came off, she was dismayed to find that her surgery hadn't fully restored her eyesight. Doctors were afraid she'd lose her peripheral vision, which would make dancing seemingly impossible. So, she opted to have one more surgery. This time, she would remain in bed for...a YEAR!!

For one whole year, Alicia Alonso stayed in bed. Again, she was told she couldn't move. And while she didn't move her body, she moved daily in her mind. She used the time to imagine every step, every twirl, every leap, every tiny movement she would take in the ballet Giselle. That's how she stayed on top of her game. Finally, her bandages were removed and...she was still partially blind. There was nothing more to do medically. But this wouldn't keep Alicia down. She HAD to dance. She was dedicated to finding a way. She worked hard to get her body back in shape and while doing that, she came up with a plan so that she could still dance.

While she couldn't see well, her eyes could still discern color.  The theaters where she performed used this and would arrange the lighting to help her find her way around the stage!  They also engineered wires just before the edge of the stage so that if Alicia got too close to the edge she would feel the wire along her waist and know to move back. She also helped to train her fellow dancers to be exactly where they needed to be on stage so that she always knew where they were. All of this helped Alicia to get back to her first love, dance. After all of her hard work to get back to where she needed to be, Alicia was able to get herself back on stage as the star of Giselle....the ballet she practiced in her head over and over again during her year in bed. WOW. That is what dedication is! How many of us would've just given up and walked away? It certainly would've been tempting. 

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And this is why we wanted to introduce little ones to The Dedicated Dancer. We want them to see a woman who had every reason to throw in the towel and never get back on stage again, but who stuck with it, who fought for her dream, who remained dedicated to her calling, and who would become known as one of the world's greatest dancers of all time. There are so many lessons to take from Alicia Alonso's life. Not only did she dance blind, but she even didn't let age get the best of her. She danced until she was 75! And after she stopped dancing, she choreographed for Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the ballet company that she founded in Cuba. This is a woman who today, at 96 years old, still makes her way into a ballet studio when she can, though now totally blind, because she can't stay away from dance. This is the type of ballerina story we want girls to know, one full of challenge and hardship, but one in which the prima ballerina persevered and dominated in her field because of her dedication. 

Truly, the story of Alicia Alonso transcends dance. It is a story that we can all relate to in some way, shape, or form as at some point we each have obstacles or challenges in life. It's what we do with those obstacles or challenges that shape our story. We want little ones to know this. We want them to know that there are women who've come up against big things and rather than be defeated or stunted by them, they worked around, went over, or went through them to do BIG things. And so can they!

Introduce little ones to The Dedicated Dancer, Alicia Alonso, this month! Her crate is chock full of  fun while little ones learn more about how our muscles work, engineer their own dancers, and use their imaginations. The Dedicated Dancer is available HERE until September 15th!