Dance of Life
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.