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Cuban Ballet Defectors Find Refuge in Miami Arts Community

Oscar Sanchez, Ariel Soto and Lisette Santander got a standing ovation as they graced an American ballet stage for the first time as free citizens. The 20 year olds defected, along with five other dancers, from the National Ballet of Cuba two weeks ago.

Jorge Sanchez had been waiting to see his son, Oscar, dance like this for almost 20 years. Ever since 1995, when he decided to emigrate from Cuba to Mexico, leaving Oscar behind with his mother, when they divorced.

“Think that you are waiting for a moment, a long, long time of your life and when this moment arrives, you can’t believe it,” he said as tears rolled across his check. “I don’t know if to laugh, cry, scream, I don’t know what to do…”

Jorge helped the dancers escape through Puerto Rico. It was an operation he had been planning for three years that he called “Grand Jeté,” a ballet term for a “big leap.” The big leap was from Cuba to Puerto Rico, then to Miami.

The plan was for Jorge to wire money to his son once in Puerto Rico. Oscar would need to ask his supervisors at the company for his passport in order to retrieve it.

When the Saturday function in Puerto Rico was cancelled, they knew they had their opening. Oscar had half an hour to defect and leave everything behind. His dad was waiting outside the hotel in a car. When they finally reunited, Oscar said the relief was indescribable.

“When I saw him, I hugged him and said, it’s over. The time of being apart is over.”

Last year, seven other dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba arrived in Miami and found work in less than six months.

Josue Justis, 21, was one of them. He now speaks English and dances in Washington D.C. He was surprised at how fast he was placed.

“I actually didn’t think it was going to be so easy or quick,” Justis said. “I was invited to a competition in New York in July of last year and the director of the Washington Ballet he saw me there and he told me about a contract and that was it.”

Cuban Ballet Defectors Find Refuge in Miami Arts Community

Oscar Sanchez, Ariel Soto and Lisette Santander got a standing ovation as they graced an American ballet stage for the first time as free citizens. The 20 year olds defected, along with five other dancers, from the National Ballet of Cuba two weeks ago.

Jorge Sanchez had been waiting to see his son, Oscar, dance like this for almost 20 years. Ever since 1995, when he decided to emigrate from Cuba to Mexico, leaving Oscar behind with his mother, when they divorced.

“Think that you are waiting for a moment, a long, long time of your life and when this moment arrives, you can’t believe it,” he said as tears rolled across his check. “I don’t know if to laugh, cry, scream, I don’t know what to do…”

Jorge helped the dancers escape through Puerto Rico. It was an operation he had been planning for three years that he called “Grand Jeté,” a ballet term for a “big leap.” The big leap was from Cuba to Puerto Rico, then to Miami.

The plan was for Jorge to wire money to his son once in Puerto Rico. Oscar would need to ask his supervisors at the company for his passport in order to retrieve it.

When the Saturday function in Puerto Rico was cancelled, they knew they had their opening. Oscar had half an hour to defect and leave everything behind. His dad was waiting outside the hotel in a car. When they finally reunited, Oscar said the relief was indescribable.

“When I saw him, I hugged him and said, it’s over. The time of being apart is over.”

Last year, seven other dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba arrived in Miami and found work in less than six months.

Josue Justis, 21, was one of them. He now speaks English and dances in Washington D.C. He was surprised at how fast he was placed.

“I actually didn’t think it was going to be so easy or quick,” Justis said. “I was invited to a competition in New York in July of last year and the director of the Washington Ballet he saw me there and he told me about a contract and that was it.”

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