Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine

Eduardo Patino photo

Eduardo Vilaro’s love of dance reaches far back into his childhood. A Cuban immigrant who came to America when he was 6 years old, he remembers music being a huge part of his life.

“Music was so connected to our culture,” he says. “For a lot of Latin music there are dances that go along with songs. Mambo has the Mambo, Tango the Tango, Rumba the Rumba.”

Vilaro is the artistic director for Ballet Hispanico in New York, where dance and culture go hand-in-hand. According to its mission, they explore, preserve and celebrate Latino cultures through dance. Through collaborations with composers and outreach in the community, the organization has grown since its founding by Tina Ramirez in 1970 into a multi-faceted educational institution.

Growing up in the South Bronx, Vilaro traveled to the New York Botanical Garden to escape the daily pressures of life. There, he began paying attention to the seasonal shifting of migrating birds. Their synchronized movements, precise and graceful, like the pirouettes and balançoires of skilled dancers, intrigued him.

He was hooked — on bird watching and on dance.

“I’ve always loved movement,” he explains. “Movement or gesture is a language we all share and can connect to.”

While in junior high, Vilaro vowed to make dancing his life. The music and drama from theater productions in school proved irresistible for him and sealed his fate as a performer. But, he wasn’t sure if he could share his newfound love just yet. For years, Vilaro kept his dancing a secret from his family using capoeira classes as his cover, while he indulged in ballet.

“It was kind of hard being a Latino boy who wanted to dance,” he shares. “I was hiding. I hid it until I graduated from high school.”

He began his dance training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He has also studied at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance. After years of studying and performing, Vilaro — who has a BFA in dance from Adelphia University and a master’s in interdisciplinary art from Columbia College — founded Luna Negra Dance Theater in 1999 in Chicago.

Vilaro served as the artistic director for 10 years and created more than 20 original pieces of choreography at Luna Negra. Two years ago he joined Ballet Hispanico.

“Luna Negra was a labor of love,” he says. “As artists we are always giving labors of love to the community. I wanted Luna Negra to live beyond me, so I gave it to Chicago.”

Now, Vilaro — who loves to cook when he’s not dancing or teaching — labors to make sure Ballet Hispanico stays true to its mission while remaining artfully innovative. As the company gears up to tour this spring with a stop here in Boston, March 9-11, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, he’s hoping to create moments that move people and affect them in a profound way.

“I think institutions like Ailey and Ballet Hispanico are important because both companies use their cultures and the evolution of their traditions to create a dialogue in the community and the world at large,” he says. “We are the beacons.”

PDF version: Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine