A Journey to Dance

Each summer, Alonzo King LINES Ballet opens its doors to hundreds of young dancers. They come to us from across the country and around the world.

This year our international roster of students includes Adonis, Delvis, and Jose from Cuba, and Nathan and Aviwe from South Africa. Their journeys to our program involved the support of several dedicated people from the Bay Area dance community. These young men, along with advocates Krissy Keefer and Kristine Elliott, share their stories below.

Adonis Delvis Jose

Alonzo King with Adonis, Delvis, and Jose, along with other very talented dancers of the Summer Program

Adonis, Delvis, and Jose

As young boys, Adonis, Delvis, and Jose had no idea of becoming dancers. They met at the age of 11 at the national school, Esuela de Arte Jose Maria Heredia and Danza del Caribe, in Santiago, Cuba. Each had auditioned in their hometown; Adonis had done so to escape boredom at his traditional school. They left their homes, parents, and siblings, to start a new life of rigorous dance instruction. Being alone in a foreign environment, the three boys became fast friends, forming a bond that has seen them through lots of life change. Their shared experience, they say, has created an intimacy and kinship that resonates in their dancing and approach to life.

A little over a year ago, Adonis, Delvis, and Jose, made the difficult decision to defect to the United States. In choosing to stay in the United States, they gave up nearly all contact with friends and family back home – in Cuba, few people have access to cell phones or social media. Like many Cuban artists before them, their decision was motivated by economic possibilities and access to a hugely resourced artistic community. Once their papers are intact, artists often return to Cuba frequently to see family and live the beauty and excitement of their culture, as well as share their experiences of living in another country.

Adonis, Delvis, and Jose have been in the Bay Area for 14 months now. They’ve had opportunities to work with Ramon Alayo from Alayo Dance Company, Sally Street at Berkeley Ballet, and a community of dancers at Dance Mission in San Francisco. Studying with Alonzo King and the faculty of the LINES Ballet Summer Program has opened their minds to the dedication and hard work it takes to become a professional dancer in the United States.

“Alonzo talks a lot about dancing from the inside. He saw our bad habits right away and pushed us to get better. We have gotten better. We never really studied ballet as children so we have a lot of catching up to do.” – Jose

Adonis, Delvis, and Jose revealed that the most difficult thing is how fast American dancers move and how fast material is taught and then absorbed by the students. This lightning speed approach reflects American culture – always on the go. Trying to keep up after coming from a country whose resources and lifestyle are slower, has taken some getting used to.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to work with such wonderful teachers and to meet so many dancers who are dedicated and focused. We are happy!” – Adonis


Nathan and Aviwe

Nathan is of Khoi descent – one of the earliest native peoples of South Africa. He has a keen interest in keeping the Khoi traditions alive. Nathan started with hip hop and says that it was dancing that saved him from life in a gang, a pathway he could easily have followed.

Aviwe is Xhosa from the township of Zolani. Xhosa is the tribe/clan of Miriam Makeba and Nelson Mandela. The Xhosa language is the one with all those marvelous clicks. He grew up amongst a family of dancers. His two cousins, like himself, are pursuing careers in dance.

Both young men began their training in South Africa in the Dance for All school and have continued their studies at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts in Cape Town.

Kristine Elliott, former soloist with American Ballet Theatre, has been teaching in South Africa for ten years. Each summer she returns, bringing a group of dance professionals to teach a ballet intensive. Over her years of teaching, she has had the opportunity of witnessing Nathan and Aviwe grow into talented young dancers. This past year, Kristine launched an effort to bring Nathan and Aviwe to the United States as a way of broadening their horizons. Kristine is committed to their journey; and also, as a main tenet of her South Africa exchange, committed to diversity in ballet. She believes that the stage should reflect the community that we live in, and that in return, ballet benefits the community by teaching life skills to the students. She had this in mind when choosing a summer program for Nathan and Aviwe.

In the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Summer Program, she was delighted to see that the diversity of students was seamlessly and naturally interwoven within the ethos of the Program. Having met Alonzo King over 30 years before, she knew him to be an influential teacher whose high standards would push Nathan and Aviwe to excel. And that it did. After their first class with Mr. King, Nathan and Aviwe left contemplating love, commitment, and presence, the best indication that this will be as transformative summer for them as hoped!