What My Teacher Taught Me: Charles Rosario on Ariel Serrano
January 31, 2024

I met my mentor, Ariel Serrano, the summer before my junior of high school in New York City. One of my teachers at Ballet Hispánico (Rebecca Maso) recommended I leave LaGuardia High School [of Music & Art and Performing Arts] to train under his tutelage at Sarasota Cuban Ballet School in Florida. She felt strongly that I would learn a lot from the experience, so I left my family and the familiarity of home and headed south.

Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Rosario.

Ariel and his wife, Wilmian Hernández, saw my potential and took me in as if I was a family member. He even gave me the nickname “Cuñeñe,” after his dog that passed away which had been like a son to him. He made me feel like I was his son now. They built good habits within me, not just as a dancer but as a person. They made sure I did my schoolwork and graduated from high school. They checked in and made sure I was mentally well, and they cared about my personal/family life. They made sure I worked hard in class, but also ensured that I had fun and enjoyed my time as a kid, as well. He took special care to find the balance between work and fun.

I spent my COVID years working with Ariel, and it felt like an extra-long summer camp with the five boys who stayed in the dorm together. It was the first time I was able to be around a lot of male dancers, and it felt like a brotherhood. Ariel coached us in pas de deux and expanded our views of what it meant to be a male dancer. He gave me the basics of conditioning and a range of technical drills that helped my flexibility and artistry as a partner and a dancer generally. He broke everything down to me and showed me how to put in the work.

Though Ariel is a strict teacher, he is also a big teddy bear. No, really—he’s 6′ 5″ and built like a football linebacker. He moves so fast and jumps so high. He demonstrates how to jump properly, and how to set up preparations. He uses imaginative ideas to help us learn, and, somehow, everything he says works. When he opens his mouth it’s like a golden chest and the angels start singing.

Ariel taught me many lessons, but one that I think about every time I perform is to stay calm and trust myself. Once, he took me to perform at the graduation gala for the Youth Ballet Company of Panama. It was my first guest artist opportunity, we were paid for our work, we were in the news, and it was a big deal. I was stressed out, especially considering I only had 10 minutes onstage for tech. Sensing my nerves, he turned to me and gave me a mantra I use to this day. “Con calma, limpio y seguro,” he said. Which roughly translates to “Calm, clean, and confident.” He was reminding me that I had done the work, that I had succeeded before, and that I could do it again. I could be clean, calm, and sure. Now, when I feel anxious before a performance, I hear those words in my head. In fact, I hear Ariel’s voice in my head almost every time I dance. When I’m doing double tours—everything. He taught me a lesson about almost every step.

Photo courtesy Rosario.

I’m forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Ariel. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. That was a special time for me, and he made it what it was. I want him and his studio to succeed because the work they are doing for dancers matters. Every student who has come out of that school has done something amazing, whether that’s in ballet or just life in general. I want to thank both Ariel and Wilmian for being my parents away from home. Thank you for everything.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the many other teachers who helped get me to where I am today. Ana Lourdes Novoa, Irene Hogarth-Cimino, Caridad Martinez, Kelly Prouty, Chanel DaSilva, Nigel Campbell, Eduardo Vilaro, Rodney Hamilton, Juan Carlos Peñuela, Ruben Martin, Ana Julia Bermúdez, Ruben Martin, Jesse Obremski, Delia Ballart Arcia, and Rebecca Maso. Thank you for your patience, information, and passion for this art form. And, of course, my heartfelt appreciation extends to the institutions of Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, Ballet Hispánico School of Dance, American Ballet Theatre JKO School, and MOVE|NYC|. I am forever grateful to all who generously shared their time and expertise with me.

Editor’s note on 02.10.24: Charles Rosario is currently a member of New York Theatre Ballet.

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