They say that all good things come in pairs. The proof? Lorena and Lorna Feijoo. Las bailarinas cubanas are each dazzling and successful in their own right; they’ve shattered countless stereotypes, and changed the face of the physically demanding art form as we know it.
In the ballet world, it can be extraordinarily difficult for one dancer to rise through the ranks of a company and reach the coveted position of principal dancer. However, both the Feijoo sisters were promoted to principal dancer in their native country of Cuba, and both have danced as principals with notable companies all over the world including the Cuban National Ballet,Boston Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet. Today, Lorena works as a Principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, and Lorna is the Resident Principal Ballet Mistress at Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre.
Most recently, the sisters represented their heritage and discussed their bond as sisters in Milk Life’s Somos Fuertes Strength Ambassadors campaign. Alongside their mother, fellow ballerina Lupe Calzadilla, the sisters gave fans a backstage look at their lives as Prima Ballerinas and proud cubanas.
It turned out to be a beautiful, family experience,” Lorena told us. “It’s there forever — captured on camera.”
We chatted with Lorena and Lorna to learn about the most challenging parts of their job and get their advice for fellow ballerinas:
What was your training like at the Cuban National Ballet?
Lorena: Our training was very, very intense. We would dance from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and we would have to do character dances and French language and piano. We learned how to read music, folklore, African dances, historical dances, and salon dances. It was a very complete dance education. We didn’t really get a lot of time off. We would have a break for lunch, then we would start with regular school like any kid. There was math, Spanish, literature, chemistry, and the rest of it. Although we don’t really feel like we missed out on anything in our childhood, it came with a lot of sacrifices. We had very little time off as kids.
When did you decide that you wanted to dance professionally?
Lorna: In my case, I never thought about being a ballerina. I was in school, and my mom was a teacher in the Cuban National Ballet School. I knew that they were holding an audition, so I applied for it, but my mom did not know that I was doing it. Then when I got in. I told my mom that I wanted to do it for a year and see what happened. I really loved it. My ideal ballerina was always my sister, so I think I tried to follow her success in the school. Even in our careers, I have always felt that my sister was the best ballerina in the world.
Lorena: When Lorna decided to audition for the company, my mom was already a teacher, so she had stopped dancing. I was the one who had started dancing, because I am three years older. In my case, from three or four years old, I was exposed to dance, because my mom was still dancing in the company. I think that it really grew on me. By the age of nine, I really knew exactly what I wanted to do.
My mother tried to persuade us both to not do it, because it is a career that involves a lot of sacrifices. I still said that this is really want I want to do. She was very clear with us. She said, “If you really have a devotion for it and a great passion for it and you know that it is going to come with all of these sacrifices, then do it. But if you feel that it is just kind of entertaining and you want to just pursue it as a hobby, that’s okay, too.”
She knew that every girl in the world wants to be a ballerina, and it doesn’t always happen. She was trying to really save us from a lot of heartbreak.
Did you have any other ballerinas that you look up to?
Lorena: Oh, absolutely. First of all, with the Cuban National Ballet, there was a range of principal dancers and ballerinas, male and female. We had a lot of people that we loved.Alicia Alonso, of course, was very big in our community. I loved Gelsey Kirkland, who was an American with the New York City Ballet andAmerican Ballet Theatre. There were also Russian ballerinas like Maya Plisetskaya andMakarova that we admired very much. There were an array of ballerinas of different nationalities from all over the world that we followed.
Lorna, you’re teaching now. Do you find it rewarding to pass on your knowledge to younger students?
Lorna: I think that it is an amazing experience. I love coaching, and I love showing what I learned from my teachers. It is a gift for the students to have someone who can hel, and we pass on to the younger generation what we learned.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Lorna: So far, I think the big thing that happened to us was our campaign with Milk that we did together. For a long time, Lorena and I could not do things together, because she was in San Francisco and I was in Boston. This is the biggest thing we have done in our career and in our lives.
Lorena: I think that Lorna and all of us have just had a great experience with the Milk campaign. It was very personal. It was just us with our mom, who was a ballerina, and then our daughters. We did a shoot for the commercial about our lives and it was very memorable. It was one our highlights. We didn’t expect it to be like that and it turned out to be a beautiful, family experience. It’s there — forever captured on camera.
What would you say is the most challenging part of being a ballerina?
Lorena: There are so many challenges. I mean, everything is challenging. Our careers are very time consuming. There is stuff that you can never really eat, and you have to watch your figure all of the time. There’s also extensive sacrifice. If you’re hurting and you have a blister in your foot, you still have to smile pretty. The backstage stories are really horrific. In fact, I would love to write a book called “Behind Barres.”
Even the time that you give to your family involves sacrifice. There are days that I leave my house at nine in the morning, and I come back at 11:30 p.m. or midnight. That is a day that I didn’t spend with my daughter. It’s just very hard. That was one of the most difficult things when I became a mom. When having kids or forming a family, you really spend a number of years considering if it’s the right time. It’s never really the right time. If a regular mom feels like it’s never the right time, for a dancer, it is so much worse. But you realize that you’re meant to do it, and you’re like, “What was I thinking before?” The pre-baby life isn’t important any more.
What would you say to other aspiring Latina ballerinas who want to achieve the success that you two have?
Lorena: First of all, make sure that you go to a really strong school. The base is super important. I give the example of the foundation of a house. No matter how expensive your furniture is and the great paintings that you put on the walls, if the base is wrong, it is very hard to correct. If you truly think of it as a career for the rest of your life, be very picky about the school that you choose for your training. In this career, you are not going to have the normal life, but it is a beautiful career, too. It’s the best thing that happened to us in our lives. So it’s important to go to the best school, so you have the base like we did in Cuba.
Just know that this career comes with sacrifices. But, if you truly enjoy it, you won’t see it as very much effort. It’s the key to every job: if you love what you do, it will feel like no effort is too much.