We recently interviewed former ABT Soloist Carlos
Lopez about his journey as a dancer. He tells us about his training
as a young dancer, his performing career and his life today. After
dancing with ABT for 10 years, he attended the ABT National Training
Curriculum teacher training courses and is enjoying a freelance
dancing career. He is currently on faculty for the ABT Studio Company
and Summer Intensive.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a dancer
at American Ballet Theatre, where you were trained as a student
and your performance background prior to joining ABT?
Carlos as Birbanto in Le Corsaire with ABT.
Photo: Marty Sohl.
I started training in Madrid, Spain with Victor Ullate at the
age of 11. Victor seemed to have his own method and he was very
meticulous and picky with everything. I’ve been told that
Victor was Vaganova based, but I was also trained by the Cuban ballet
stars, so I also credit the Cuban school for my initial training.
I joined the Victor Ullate Ballet Company at age 15 and danced with
them for 10 years. I was a principal dancer there and danced a lot
of neo-classical ballets and some of the full-length classics. At
some point I felt like something was missing and, like everyone
else, had seen the videos of American Ballet Theatre with dancers
such as Julio Bocca and Amanda McKerrow. So, in 2001, I decided
to move to New York to audition and join American Ballet Theatre.
How has your transition from being a soloist with ABT
to being a freelance dancer and teacher been going?
Right now, really good. At the beginning it was hard I have to
say. Dancing for ABT for like 10 years as a Soloist, in an established
company, you get used to a lot of good things. They take care of
you and you’re protected. You go on tour and all of those
things are covered and you have a steady paycheck. As soon as you
start being a freelancer, you’re on your own. You are your
manager, you are your physical therapist, and you have to know when
something hurts; when is it time to go to a doctor or not. It was
hard in the beginning, just to be by myself. But, I think then I
started to get going and meet a lot of people and lucky me, I’ve
made a lot of friends when I was in the company and when I’m
around. So, I learned how to make the best out of it; how you have
to contact people and let yourself be seen in the studios and just
let them know that you’re available, you’re free.
Has it been difficult to balance a performing and teaching
Well, lucky me, I was able to join the ABT Studio Company as a
teacher and Kate Lydon has been amazingly nice to me. It’s
great to be able to go away and do my performances, and come back
to the studio and teach. So, it’s been pretty easy, so far.
Why did you decide to attend the ABT National Training
Curriculum Teacher training courses and did these courses meet your
I was talking to Tina Escoda (ABT Artistic Administrator) and
she mentioned ABT’s National Training Curriculum, when I was
in the Company. I was too busy dancing and performing at the time,
but I finally gave it a try in February. The courses exceeded my
expectations. I was open mentally, in terms of going there, but
I didn’t know what it was exactly that I was going to get
out of the courses before going. You hear opinions, but I have to
say that I was thrilled with how it turned out and the whole response
Can you tell us about your training and if the ABT National
Training Curriculum is different from how you were trained?
Carlos teaching the ABT Studio Company.
Photo: Meghan Love.
Well, my teacher Victor Ullate has a really strong technique.
He was trained with Maria de Avila, which apparently, I learned
in the Training Curriculum, comes a little bit from Vaganova. But
then he danced for many, many years in Maurice Bejart. So, that
gave him a little bit of fluidity and more neo-classical dancing
that he applied to the arms, so even though all the positions and
all the base, it was very strong. The arms, he would make emphasis
in how we made it fluid and made it more danceable not as much like
classical positions. There are a lot of similarities in the ABT
Curriculum to when I was trained.
So, what do you think makes ABT’s Curriculum, as
opposed to other training methods, so beneficial in training dancers.
What helped me was how well the syllabus was structured to help
with the classification of the steps based on the ages of the kids.
I realized how important it is to go through levels to get to increasingly
more difficult steps, which is not how I was trained. I had no levels,
so I initially thought that teaching was very basic. I realized
through the Curriculum that classes have to be structured to appeal
to the age and level of the student.
Have you had a chance to implement the Curriculum into
your teaching yet and if so, what results have you seen?
I taught a summer intensive in Mexico for one week and had three
separate levels – beginning, intermediate and advanced. The
advanced is easier for me because I’m still dancing and I
know how to talk to the older dancers. It’s harder to teach
the little children because I had to refer to my charts, to be sure
I was teaching the appropriate material, using the right vocabulary
and knowing exactly what I can teach for that level. I felt the
arms were important for the younger children and that they move
all together when starting an exercise. So, by the end of the week,
I noticed that they all were moving together and they knew three
or four things necessary for their future.
What are some of the most important things that you have
learned, as a former dancer with ABT and as a current freelance
dancer, that you would like to pass on to your students?
As a dancer in general, not just a dancer with ABT, what I try
to pass on to my students is discipline. I believe students need
discipline for themselves and for their art. It’s very important
to take class everyday, even when they’re not dancing. They
have to give themselves a rest, but they have to make sure to take
classes because the classes will take them a long way and will help
to not cause any injuries. Dancers should have respect, discipline,
and have fun. Don’t get caught up with being perfect. Take
a breath and think about why they want to dance.
After you’re done freelancing, are you going to
mainly teach? What’s your vision for your future?
Carlos teaching the ABT Studio Company.
Photo: Jenna Bitterman.
I’m open to everything. After having lived in New York City
and becoming a freelance dancer, I’ve realized that I have
to be open because you never know where opportunities come from.
I never would have imagined that I’d be a Studio Company teacher
or anything besides being a dancer. Once you start opening doors,
you can start opening your vision. I’m still able to dance
and am still recognized and found that teaching has actually helped
my dancing because it’s taken me back to the beginning –
how I started; how I approach steps. For now, I’m a dancer,
teacher and still even a student.
Do you think it is important for other teachers to attend
the teacher training course(s) at ABT?
I believe artists never stop learning. If teachers want to be
dedicated to something, especially when teaching children, the more
they know, the easier it is to address any problems. Raymond Lukens
knows everything, and the Curriculum gives teachers options. It’s
not just A-B-C, there’s a whole range to learn and build from,
whether it’s vocabulary or history. Raymond’s vast knowledge
of history is great and he has so many stories and experiences in
teaching to share, but it’s also about the experiences of
the teachers attending as well. The teachers who come to the training
program talk about their experiences and share what does or doesn’t
work. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but what
works for each child and making them better dancers. I don’t
only work with the most talented student because I never know what
a student is capable of or who’s going to make it. Victor
Ullate always told me it’s not about how talented you are,
but how smart you are as a dancer. ABT's Training Curriculum can
help teachers learn how to teach their students to use the tools
they have to become good dancers.
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