Cuban dancer Yanquiel Vázquez thought his dream of dancing with the Cuban National Ballet was over when a rare neurological disease nearly left him crippled a few years ago.
The 29-year-old man from the rural town of Mantua in western Cuba joined the ballet company in 2011. Shortly thereafter, he was struck with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The system attacks nerves and sometimes paralyzes limbs.
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“It took months before I could walk again.”
He returned to ballet and this year he became the ‘First Dancer’. His struggle with disability made his accomplishments among the ballet elite all the more impressive.
“It’s been my childhood dream to reach ‘First Dancer,'” he told Reuters.
Founded in Havana in 1948 and later assisted by Fidel Castro’s Revolution of 1959, the Cuban National Ballet is one of the most famous ballet companies in the world. Associated schools have graduated thousands of dancers to the world stage over the decades.
According to Biencai Valdes, director of the Cuban National Ballet, the company’s 70 dancers have long benefited from a team of physical therapists who keep performers healthy.
Recently, a team of physical therapists arrived from Chile to compare notes with Cuban experts and help Cuban dancers adjust for their next performance.
“Dancers are like athletes. The importance of being physically prepared is essential,” Valdes said.
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