Dance of Life

7.18.2007

By Will Doig

In Spanish it means a passion and skill that have always lived inside you, but ever since Pedro Ruiz was a boy growing up in Santa Clara, Cuba, duende, to him, has meant ballet. Today, as a principal dancer in New York City's Ballet Hispanico and the subject of an episode of public television's In the Life, Ruiz continues to fulfill a dream that began at age 8 in a school production of Peter and the Wolf.

Growing up in macho Cuba, Ruiz had to be careful about his sexuality'even at dance school. 'If they saw you acting a little bit feminine, you're out,' he recalls. Rather than oppress him, he allowed this masculine veneer to influence his dance. 'You needed to portray yourself a certain way, so you were always conscious of how you moved.'

Ruiz's parents convinced him to tell the Cuban draft board he was gay to escape military conscription'an act of courage in a country where homosexuality was often a ticket to prison. He did, and they moved to New York in the winter of 1984 , where Ruiz got a job on an assembly line hammering pins into insecticide bottles, 'like Lucy in the chocolate factory.'

By 1985 he was dancing with Ballet Hispanico. This year he's choreographing five full ballets, including one for the Joffrey Ballet, and he's teaching at Alvin Ailey dance school. 'They're so hungry for new things,' he says of his students, who remind him of his youth, when he would sneak out to the fields and dance under the tropical sun. 'I always say how lucky they are to live in a place where they can be free to express themselves without any discrimination.'

Visit InTheLifeTV.org for local air dates.

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