Cuban dancer Yankiel Vázquez thought his dream of dancing with the National Ballet of Cuba was over when a rare neurological disorder nearly paralyzed him several years ago.
The 29-year-old, from the town of Mantua in Cuba’s rural west, joined the ballet in 2011. Shortly after, he suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare but often debilitating condition. in which the immune system attacks the nerves, sometimes paralyzing the extremities. “It took me several months to learn to walk again,” he said, calling it an “intense physical and mental rehabilitation process.”
He returned to ballet and this year he became “first dancer”, an elite distinction within ballet made all the more impressive by his fight against disorder. “Achieving ‘first dancer’ is what you dream of as a kid,” he told Reuters.
The National Ballet of Cuba, founded in 1948 in Havana and later supported by Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, is among the most renowned ballet companies in the world. An associated school has graduated thousands of dancers on the world stage over several decades. According to Viengsay Valdés, director of the National Ballet of Cuba, the company’s 70 dancers have long benefited from a team of physiotherapists who keep performers healthy, including those who helped Vazquez recover.
A team of physiotherapists recently arrived from Chile to compare notes with their expert counterparts from Cuba and to help condition the Cuban dancers for upcoming performances. “A dancer is like an athlete. The importance of having physical preparation is essential,” Valdes said.
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