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A Tale of Exile
(A loving tribute to Alicia Alonso)
Theresa C. Newbill

The dawn was just breaking in the sky when the parade reached the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The austerity of the place hit me like a cold wind. It was majestic, clean and in perfect order, but on it was the zeal of the revolution. I studied in that hall with its lofty vaulted roof and its paneled walls when it was Havana's Gran Teatro under choreographer and prima ballerina Alicia Alonso. She was an impressive looking woman with pale complexion, dark eyes, and fine strong features. Her black hair was short, curly with a few wispy bangs that hung down over her forehead. She knew her music intimately and when she danced she became the metronome behind the melody that stretched muscles and stripped thought, suspended in beautiful contortions of frozen acrobatics. There were days of ecstasy and fear under her direction.

"Why did you become a dancer?" she once asked me.

"I take pleasure from my audience, Maestra." I replied.

"We are not put on earth to take pleasure."

I received a stern look and had to hold an arabesque pose for what seemed like several hours. My body sweated and burned. I closed my eyes as the stillness took over and the smell of the ocean breeze from the open window counterbalanced my own body odor. It was like being caught in a liberating dream where I was rising higher and higher above the white capped waves until mind and body were calm and quite clear. I opened my eyes and smiled at her, she smiled back, one breath heavier than the rest, in a carefree reception of celebration.

It's funny how the soul keeps the heart, mind and spirit in suspension even when destiny pulls them apart. Over thirty years have passed since I defected while on tour in Paris. The Cuban national anthem plays and I now stand on the same spot where I had stood on the day of my arrival to the theater as a young dancer. The scene becomes surreal among a spray of Cuban emblems and flags. Alicia surfaces. She can hardly move or see. The crowd cheers crying out her name with joy. And I, her once beloved student, find her even more beautiful than ever before. It is true the years have passed and we can no longer dance in our old age, but our bodies still shape and form the curving shoreline of Cuba's golden beaches embalming the moonlight with nostalgia, reminding us that we do not drown, but rise from our histories.