Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Tina Ramirez advocates for modern views of Latin culture through dance

Growing up in Venezuela, Ballet Hispánico founder and former Artistic Director Tina Ramirez fantasized about a life on stage. A move to the United States before she turned 10 provided her with the opportunities she needed to follow her dream.

Living in New York City with her grandmother, she enrolled in tap and ballet classes and dedicated the rest of her time to studying Spanish dance styles with renowned teacher Lola Bravo. Soon the talented pupil was working on club stages throughout New York City, plus on television and on Broadway.

Ramirez’s career was taking off, but her dance instructor was about to call in a favor they had discussed years earlier; the student would take over Bravo’s Spanish dance school. With this experience, Ramirez would turn her passion for learning into a passion for sharing her education with new dancers. In 1970, she founded Ballet Hispánico. Now she would be able to share her beloved culture with larger audiences.

Throughout her life, a proud, independent streak led her to want to create artistic and employment opportunities for her fellow Hispanic dancers. Her mission with Ballet Hispánico was to show audiences that Latin culture was rich with beautiful music, movement, costumes, and faces—not at all the stereotypes that Spanish-themed performing arts programs delivered.

Ballet Hispánico, under Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro’s leadership since 2009, will perform October 17 at Eisenhower Auditorium in its first visit to Penn State since 1993. The program will feature three distinct pieces: Linea Recta by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Con Brazos Abiertos by Michelle Manzanales, and Catorce Dieciséis by Tania Pérez-Salas. Each work views aspects of Hispanic culture through a contemporary dance lens and without presenting worn-out ideas of what modern Latin culture is. The event is part of the Center for the Performing Arts Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative.

On why Ramirez decided to start a company for young Latinx dancers:

In the early days, I just wanted Hispanics to have a voice in dance and for people to get to know us as a people. Because, you know, you went to see a ballet, and there was somebody crouched with a sombrero, and that’s not who we are.

The New York Times, 2008

On the examination of social issues by Ballet Hispánico:

An artistic director shouldn’t impose their own view on an audience. I don’t like it when people get preachy. So I don’t, as a rule, do it myself.

Deseret News, 2003

On how dance helps to create better communities:

People should know themselves better. I believe if people dance, all people dance, they are better people … because in dance, you have to learn how to work together.

Charlie Rose, 1991

On the healing power of the arts:

I think the arts can make a change in people faster than anything. And it lasts forever. You sensitize people.

The New York Times, 1979