2023 Dance Teacher Award Honoree Caridad Martinez Works From the Heart, and So Do Her Students
July 7, 2023

The 2023 Dance Teacher Awards will take place on Thursday, August 10 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York City, and you’re invited! Click here to buy tickets.

Caridad Martinez is in high demand. 

Currently, the Cuban ballet legend holds faculty positions at the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and The Ailey School, and teaches open ballet classes at Peridance Center on the side. She has also directed Brooklyn Ballet School, Ballet Hispánico School of Dance’s ballet and curriculum training program, and the Harkness Dance Center summer intensive; coached at Dance Theatre of Harlem; and guest taught at Canada’s Alberta Ballet School, Portugal’s Annarella Conservatory, and Vancouver’s Goh Ballet, among others. She serves on the board of Ballet Beyond Borders and is a member of the International Dance Council, to boot. 

Courtesy Martinez.

At each one of those schools, Martinez was sought out—a fact she relays with palpable humility and tone of candid surprise: “I’ve had no expectations. I’m just working!”

But make no mistake; Martinez doesn’t just work. She pours her heart into every class she teaches, and makes a point to connect with her students on a personal level. That approach, she says, comes from her teachers in Cuba, which included the likes of visionaries Fernando and Alicia Alonso, Joaquin Banegas, and Ramona de Saá.

Brought up in a sort of Cuban ballet renaissance, as she describes it, Martinez began dancing as was standard in her home country at the time: She was selected based on natural talent, and began serious study at Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Arte at the age of 10, under the direction of the creators of the Cuban methodology, Alicia and Fernando Alonso. There, she found passionate teachers and was immersed in a culture that valued a well-rounded arts education, personal artistry, and investment in both history and innovation. In the years that have followed, she’s passed that value system on to her students. 

“From the very beginning, it was never just classical ballet, though Cuba shocked the world with how well we did it,” she says. “We were always developing and learning what the new choreographers demanded—new necessities of expressions, the New York City energy. That’s how you have to prepare the next generation.”

Black and white photo of Caridad Martinez standing in a crossed relevé at a ballet barre, gesturing towards her feet as students look on.
Courtesy Martinez.

Martinez joined the National Ballet of Cuba as an apprentice at only 14. Over the next 30 years, she enjoyed a flourishing career with the company, with the last 12 as a principal. But when the time came for her to retire from the stage, she explains, it was ultimately not her decision. 

“At that time, Cuba was a socialist country,” she says. “We didn’t really have options. One day, I got a call and was told it was a good moment for me to retire and start coaching, and that it’s what the company wanted. So I did.”

What she didn’t expect was how much she would thrive. After leaving the National Ballet of Cuba, Martinez created her own collaborative arts company, Havana Ballet Theater, in the 1980s before founding the Cuban School of Ballet in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1994—her first big leap into pedagogy, she explains. Before she knew it, schools from all over Mexico were calling and asking her to teach. She’d experience that same phenomenon a few years later after deciding to move to New York City at the recommendation of a colleague.

Caridad Martinez working with young ballet dancers wearing blue leotards and tights with numbers on their chests.
Courtesy Martinez.

It was in Veracruz in 1990 where Martinez met and began teaching Daniela Ortiz, first at Fomento Artístico Cordobés and then at her own Cuban School of Ballet, which Ortiz now directs.

“Caridad’s classes have a special structure that allows you to acquire versatility as a dancer,” says Ortiz. “Since the first day she taught me, I don’t think she’s ever withheld information. The best thing is that she knows each student personally. She demanded a lot from us, yes, but she has always known how to cultivate her students’ best potential.”

Martinez’s acumen for excellent instruction is evident in the successes of her students, who for decades have joined prestigious companies worldwide, including American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, Houston Ballet, Orlando Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, The Norwegian Opera Ballet, and Ballet Hispánico. Martinez also brings teachers to schools and festivals in Latin America, searching for dancers to receive scholarships to receive professional training in the U.S., Spain, and Italy. But more importantly, Ortiz says, Martinez leaves her mark by helping students develop their voices as individuals.

“She is a great teacher not only because of her natural charisma but because she recognizes that each human being has a story to express. She taught us to do the best that can be done for others. Therefore, I cannot say that my learning with her is over. On the contrary, I am still a student of a great human being, artist, and teacher, Caridad.”

As for Martinez, she continues to put her head down and work. And she continues to love it.

“I am so lucky that this is my life,” she says, eyes closed, taking a deep breath. “How amazing it is how much even one person can do with the information you give them: Create something different. Find their own voice. When they realize it’s not something rational, that it comes from the heart—that is the most beautiful thing.”

Profiles on the other four award winners are available here.

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