Cuban Ballet in Exile

Some of the world's best dancers hang out at Costco, then perform Swan Lake.

At age 19, she married Taras's father, Taras Domitro Sr., who was a violinist. Her son was born five years later. Soon after giving birth, she began traveling abroad to give classes and attend competitions. Her first trip, to Venezuela in 1989, rocked her perspective. In Caracas, she "could breathe, eat, and have some freedom," she says. "I understood how life could be." She had tired of seeing her former dance students given cars while she was stuck riding a Chinese bicycle.

What's more, the government collected a 10 to 15 percent cut of the salary earned abroad. "They treated us like they owned us," she says. "I don't like anything to dominate me. The only thing I let dominate me is ballet, and that's enough."

Magaly worried about leaving her son, who then was only about three years old and asthmatic, even though he was with his father and their extended family. So she returned to Cuba. "Taritas was a baby," she says. "A child always needs his mother, but when they're that little, they need you a little more."

At age nine, Taras began formally studying dance at the Alejo Carpentier school, Magaly's alma mater. By that time, many Cuban parents had begun pushing their children to audition for ballet schools, which dotted the country. Dance can provide rare luxuries such as travel.

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Taras studied typical school subjects, and from 2 to 6 p.m., he danced. But Magaly wouldn't instruct him. "I never wanted to touch Taritas," she says. "I don't like to him see him suffering."

The boy had big dreams. "I was impressed by the ballet, its scenery, and technical steps," he recalls. "It was always very clear. I dedicated myself to only ballet."

Magaly continued traveling — to Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Colombia — for weeks or months at a time. Taras Jr., meanwhile, won acceptance to the National Ballet School of Cuba.

In 1998, Magaly visited Colombia, where she taught for almost a year. That December she decided to defect. Taras, then 12 years old, was with her. She invited him along. He refused, opting to continue with ballet on the island.

Taras doesn't recall being sad or angry. He was accustomed to his mother's absences. "The life of an artist is very independent," he says.

So Magaly, who had separated from Taras Sr. the previous year, kissed her son goodbye and hopped a flight to South Florida. Taras headed home. "It was very, very hard, but I knew it was best for me," she recalls. "I think he made the right decision. Because, since he studied ballet in Cuba, he has more options. Sometimes we have to sacrifice something to go for something else."

It would be five years until they saw each other again. The National Ballet School wouldn't let Taras travel. And Magaly, who moved to Fort Lauderdale, where she taught at a Cuban-run ballet school, couldn't garner a visa to see him.

She sent $200 every week or two, as well as trendy clothes, iPods, and tights and leotards for her son and his classmates. They talked two or three times a week. "When you are a good mother, nothing can change that," she explains. "It doesn't matter how far away you are."

In 2003, Magaly opened her own studio in Pompano Beach with help from her then-boyfriend, Pedro, an engineer. The pair met in Cuba and reunited in South Florida. They married in 2005.

Around that time, Taras was finally allowed to leave Cuba for a contest in Peru. Though Magaly traveled there, Taras asked her not to attend the first night's performance. "He knows how strict I am," she says.

After the show, they went to dinner. He stayed at her hotel. "I didn't try to make it a big deal," Magaly recalls. "I didn't want to be talking about something that was in the past."

Taras ended up winning the top prize and joining the National Ballet at 17 years old. In the years that followed, Magaly journeyed to his shows in Mexico, Brazil, and Spain at least once a year. But she was never allowed to see him in Cuba.

She never pushed him to leave. "It's a very personal decision," she says. "It has to be the right time for you."

Magaly was a maternal figure for exile dancers beginning with Daniel Sarabia in 2004. At age 19, he defected after performing Carmen in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and then headed to Miami, where he trained with Magaly. Soon he moved into her four-bedroom Pompano home while dancing and looking for a job. His older brother Rolando, a star dancer in Cuba, followed in 2005.

Both Sarabias stayed with Magaly for about a year before Daniel found a spot with the Boston company and Rolando with Houston. Both now dance with Miami City Ballet. Magaly eased them through a tumultuous time. "I didn't realize it was going to be that hard," Daniel says.

Since then, at least seven other Cuban dancers and teachers have lived with Magaly. She also shelters American dancers who have left faraway families to train in Pompano. "I don't really tell anyone to come," she insists. "They just call me when they get here."

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