How was training at the Cuban National Ballet School different from what you see in the U.S.?
It was free education, so it was very hard to get in, and there was a cut every year. We had academics alongside art, and we had to take a lot of different things: modern, character, ballroom, choreography composition, history of dance, music, French, makeup—everything you need for this profession.
Why did you defect?
I always wanted to have an international career. But also, I was 19, and I had a boyfriend. We were dating in Cuba when he won the lottery visa to come to the United States. When I was on tour here with the National Ballet he came to see me and I thought, I'm in love! So I stayed with him.
Has the political opening of Cuba affected you?
Before, if you defected, you had to wait five years to go back. That was pretty rough. Things have changed so much. It's about time; we're neighbors! Last year I was able to go back and perform at the Grand Theater in Havana—with my family, my teachers and my friends there.
You danced with Cincinnati Ballet and Boston Ballet before becoming a freelancer. What do you like about freelancing versus company life?
I had a wonderful time in every company. But as a freelancer, I don't have to deal with internal politics. I work with companies and get the best out of it, and then I move on. I just do it for me, for the audience, for the love of the art.
Where do you usually rehearse and take class?
At Magaly Suarez's studio, The Art of Classical Ballet, in Pompano Beach, Florida. She teaches class and coaches our rehearsals. I can't imagine being a freelancer without that opportunity and that support. She's also my partner Taras Domitro's mother, so she's not easy on us!
Why did you start ADIdancewear, your dancewear line?
Dancers are in front of the mirror every day, so it's important to look good and feel good about ourselves. I can provide dancers with that by using the passion that I have for drawing and designing.
Almeida and her partner, Taras Domitro, in "Swan Lake." Photo by Belinda Carhartt R., courtesy of Almeida.
Is there a role that represents you as a dancer?
I identify a lot with Kitri, in Don Quixote. It's just who I am—her energy, and that sense of flirtatiousness.
You once sat next to Fidel Castro at a dinner. What did you talk about?
They used to have cultural events in Havana with different fields of art. I got to go, and a couple of times I ended up at dinner with the artists and politicians. He talked a lot about art and politics, but I was really shy and amazed to be sitting next to the president. I don't think I talked at all!
Do you have advice for dancers who want to start a business?
A lot of us dedicate our lives to this career and wait until it's over to think about what's next. It's better that dancers find out what other passions they have while they're still dancing. Don't be afraid to take that next step. Get yourself ready for the future.