Everyone who knows me knows that when I was ten years old, my life was truly changed because my ballet teacher took a group of students to the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland to see the Cleveland Ballet perform Swan Lake. Although Ana Lobe was not onstage that day, I would go on to see her on TV and in magazines in years to follow, and she became one of the many dancers I looked up to and indeed of whom I was truly in awe.
It was my honor to visit Ana at her new studio and to interview her about her fascinating life and career. Let’s take a look at one of Cleveland’s most dynamic and gracious ballerinas, ANA LOBE.
Ana ‘s story of how she began dancing is nothing short of miraculous. As a child in Cuba, Ana’s mother’s friend told her that there were auditions for a dance school in Havana. It was the only ballet school in Havana. This friend was taking her daughter, and as no one in Ana’s family danced, her mom agreed that she could take Ana along. Thank goodness she did…
Ironically, they accepted Ana into the school, but not the daughter of her mother’s friend. She was eight years old.
When her training began at age nine, she underwent a strict physical examination in addition to being tested for such skills as musicality. They also asked her things like, “Have you ever seen the ballet before?” Her mother was a nurse, and did not have a habit of attending the theatre, so Ana of course said no. However she did say to them cheerfully, “But I have seen the circus!”
She attended classes twice a week after school, and then in fifth grade she was accepted into the school’s full program. It was now not only ballet, but also included arts such as piano, painting, and French. “These were very important,” Ana noted. And thus began her eight years of training at the School of the Ballet Nacionál de Cuba (BNC).
“My passion grew through the years”, she said smiling.
“You start as a child, and sometimes you don’t even realize what you’re doing… and suddenly something clicks and allows you to escape from whatever your reality is,” Lobe reminisced. “And in many cases, I think that is the key to people who have succeeded, and to how they become whatever they become. For dancers, they realize what dance has meant in their lives and how it has given them hope.”
Every year at the School of Ballet Nacionál de Cuba, the students would be tested to see if they would continue. “You could be eliminated any year,” she added. Ana was not eliminated. She graduated in 1982. For her graduation she danced Paquita.
It had been eight years since Alicia Alonso had attended any graduations of the school… but she attended Ana’s.
Upon her graduation Ana accepted a contract for the corps de ballet of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The company was over 200 dancers at that time, and she accepted one of only three open positions that year. Many years of hard work and excellent training saw Ana promoted to soloist, and she danced many principal roles by the late 80s. Both Ana and José Manuel Carreño were soloists with BNC, and they began to work with Laura Alonso, and she started what was basically the “youth” of the company. Laura Alonso called this “La Joven Guardia” together with soloists and principals of BNC, and this new group was coached during their lunch times in lead roles. Once per month they had a performance on Saturday mornings. Ana explained that in those years, unlike how Balanchine was known for pulling promising dancers from the corps to dance principal roles, you had to wait years to dance lead roles in CNB. Alonso arranged for promising young dancers to rehearse principal roles on their lunch break. Consequently she worked to provide opportunities for these dancers to compete internationally. Ana explained that this opened up a huge door for many dancers of her generation, and that she is so grateful to Laura for all she did. It was during these competitions where Lobe’s partnering relationships grew, not only with Carreño but also with Julio Arozarena, with whom she competed at the International Ballet Competition at Varna, at which Arozarena was a silver medalist and Lobe was a finalist. Then, in 1990, Ana competed with Carreño at the USA International Ballet Competition (USA IBC), which she aptly described as a “turning point” in her life. She describes the difference a one-on-one coach can make in one’s dancing, which coincided with her first time in the states. She said that through seeing the dancers from the competition dance, and becoming friends with them it became like a huge dance family. She referred to competing as “a huge grande jeté in your dancing, always taking you to a higher level, both artistically and technically”.
Famed dance writer, the late Ann Barzel went to Cuba in 1990 and attended the Festival Internacionál de Ballet de la Habana. Ana had many lead roles during the festival, but the most significant was the full length Don Quixote; her Kitri partnered by Lazaro Carreño. Kitri is one of Ana’s favorite roles, and it was also the last role she performed in Cuba. felt so strongly that Ana did not receive a medal at the USA IBC, that she bestowed her with a silver pendant that she had bought in Peru. She said, “You deserve a silver medal or a gold. I don’t have a gold medal, so I will give you a silver one.” Ana smiles into the distance, remembering this. “I have that medal; it is beautiful. I treasure it. I don’t tell this to many people.” She told me that Barzel described her as a ‘superb’ Kitri in Don Quixote, and that, “it meant the world to me”.
From there Lobe received an opportunity to dance with the English National Ballet, due to her performance after the International Ballet Competition. Ivan Nagy gave Ana and Carreño contract after seeing them dance. As soon as the festival in Cuba was completed in November, she and Carreño took off for London. “It was the time of my life!” she laughed. She had experienced freedom for the first time, and there was no turning back for her. It was then she realized that although she loved her country and her company, that she was missing opportunities. She had seen previous dancers that had been wasted, as no one ever knew them dance. “When you are in a group that is part of a communist country, you have no rights. We would tour, and when we would arrive in the new country, our passports would be taken away. Everybody had to move like lambs…
…and I love my liberty and my independence. I always had the initiative to do something different.”
Reluctant to leave her mother, Ana did take a leap of faith and took another grande jete into the next phase of her career. She knew she had to embrace the last portion of her dancing years, and then retire at the top of her career, and move on to something else. “There was always something inside of me that wanted to teach. Even back in Cuba I would give private lessons, since when you graduate from the National Ballet School of Cuba you are made a professor.”
Ana’s real teaching career began in England 1991 when she defected. She had stress fractures in both of her tibias. She describes this time as another turning point, as she has gained her freedom, but her dancing was inhibited due to injury. She was in a new country with a new language, and truly a whole new life… and yet dancing, one of the biggest parts of her life, was suddenly taken away. Although she could not dance fully, or audition for any companies, she came to terms and decided that if she could not dance that she would teach. She then came to the states and taught at Martha Mahr School of Ballet in Coral Gables, Florida in the 1991-1992 school year, and her injury healed. Soon she received an invitation from Ballet Mississippi to dance with their company. Her friends in Miami encouraged her to go to Mississippi to help her learn the language and branch out. It was there that she got herself back into shape after not dancing for years. In Mississippi she and her husband, José Montano, started their lives over again in a new city. He began working for PBS on camera and sound, and Ana received many new opportunities, even having dances choreographed on her.
During her second year Fernando Bujones took direction of the company. “For me, to work and dance with him, it was a dream come true,” she described. “One of the few tapes we had of ballet back in Cuba was a tape of him and Cynthia Gregory in the ABT Mixed-Bill Gala from the 80s. We would watch it over and over again, so to have the opportunity to perform with him was fantastic. A dream became reality to dance with a star with ABT.” Unfortunately Ballet Mississippi folded during her years there, and Ana was without a job… so she began to audition again.
It was in one of these auditions, at Louisville Ballet pulled her aside after the class and said, “You are just stunning, you are beautiful…
you have hands like Margot Fonteyn… But I don’t have a job for you.”
The director simply did not have an position available for her. It was then that she found herself back at the US IBC… and Dennis Nahat, the director of The Cleveland Ballet, was the master of ceremonies. He asked her to audition for the company. “It’s very cold in the winter,” he told her. She visited Cleveland for a week and in that time did audition for him. He asked her about her pointe shoes and if she had tried other shoes before. Nothing much else was said. That Friday came along, and Ana was worried that perhaps he had changed his mind about her. She said, “Well Mr. Nahat, is there any possibility that you could tell me if I might be able to dance here?” She said that he looked at her and exclaimed, “Of course, of course you got the job!” She got a contract and arrived in Cleveland full-time in the summer of 1994.
ANA AS A TEACHER, and the birth of ALBA- Ana Lobe Ballet Academy
Ana became the star of The Cleveland Ballet, and was a performer that the city will never forget. Ana always said that she would retire when she could still do everything she could always do onstage. She said she wanted to, “leave the stage before the stage left her.” She never wanted the audience to ever feel sorry for her.
“I respected the audience,” stated Lobe.
On a flight to California to guest perform in The Nutcracker, she started reading about Gyrotonic. After learning more, researching, and trying it, she said, “This is it! This is what I want to do.” She felt wonderful after each Gyrotonic session, and then became certified in it so that she could share it with her students that she had been teaching here and there at various studios to compliment their training, make them stronger, and help prevent injury. “The more I can provide them, the better dancers they will become!” she told me, enthusiastically. Gyrotonic training propelled her not only into moving more freely, but also into wanting to share it, along with her expertise about ballet, with others as a full-time profession.
Her foray into teaching was teaching in different studios over the years. “As a teacher, I have always been open to share my experience fully. Thinking back on my roots and my training in Cuba, not all of the dancers were open to share their information. There is nothing in it for me to keep it for myself. I have always felt that what we are to do as dancers is to share. And that is why I put the quote on my website that it [dancing] is a gift from God and it has to be passed from generation to generation. Not a video, not a book. It has to be verbally. I was lucky to have so many good teachers over the years who did share with me, so it is my duty to pass it on to the next generation.”
And pass it along she has. Ana worked as a teacher and a leader in many local dance schools over the years. As she did so, she developed who Ana Lobe was as a trainer and teacher, and also worked to resolve any doubt about whether or not she could have her own school: she came to believe she could. Naturally, as she believed in herself more, she also felt the pangs of desire to have her very own, full-time students. And her students developed a desire for her.
“I began molding it my way. It is a family atmosphere. The kids come to dance to release. To unplug from reality. To transport themselves to that beautiful place that is the dance studio: sweating, working hard, working on technique. But it became a family for each of them. We always try to have that ballet group, because it is a family… and it is a family that never leaves you.”
Watch a video of the Ana Lobe Ballet Academy and why it is a family below.
When it was time for Ana to leave where she was teaching and pursue her own school, she was not alone. “I guess I had a lot of mini butterflies… and they flew with me. They said that they couldn’t go to anywhere that I was not teaching. That was gratifying encouragement for me that I got from all those little souls… and their parents!” she smiled. So ALBA was born. “And I would never have put my own name on my school,” Ana said humbly, “but my dear friend and mentor Luc de Lairesse said to me- alba. And I said, ‘Oh, I love alba.’ Alba has a lot of meaning to me, it means ‘the dawn’ in English and Spanish, so I thought it was just perfect. And then Luc told me, ‘No, it’s going to be Ana Lobe Ballet Academy,’ and I said, ‘Oh! With my name?’ Finally, I agreed because with alba, that is how I see my students- they are the sunshine, and they rise up every day. I love watching them grow and develop. It is my dream that each and every one of them can fulfill their own dreams, whatever they are. It’s all about what ballet gives to everyone. It’s that self-discipline, that commitment to anything you start. For anything you do in life you have to work hard. Dedication and hard work will pay off, and I share that with my students. Every trick, everything I learned over my 23-year career of professional dancing, is what I pass along to my students. And they give back. I could be having a bad day, and I come to the studio, and that’s it. The students, the way they commit themselves, their ethic… it’s just very fulfilling…
…and it’s the best job that I could have.”
ALBA is open for anybody. ALBA is open for any student that wants to improve his or her training. They do not have to leave their studio, they can come to take extra classes. ALBA is open to anyone that wants to come to improve their dancing.
“Dancing is inspired by God. The science of dancing is taught by teachers. Maybe more than any other art form, dance requires its techniques, traditions, and choreography to be passed orally from one dancer or teacher down to the next generation.”
-from The Dancer Who Flew, A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev by Linda Maybarduk
Visit the Ana Lobe Ballet Academy’s website here: http://alballet.com/
Like Ana Lobe Ballet Academy on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/AnaLobeBalletAcademy