Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

The Charm Factor: Miami City Ballet's Patricia Delgado

I turned up one morning to watch Eddie Villella's company class at Miami City Ballet, as I do most mornings when I'm in Miami, and there at the barre was a dancer I'd never seen before—a ravishingly beautiful girl with immense natural charm who was working as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the room. After watching her for 10 minutes I sidled over to Villella and whispered, “Who is that girl? She's a star! Give her everything!"

He's used to tolerating my enthusiasms, but it was also clear that he didn't totally disagree, even though he wasn't going to say so. Her name was Patricia Delgado, he told me. She was 17, and she was an apprentice at the company, where Villella is artistic director. When later in the day I said more or less the same thing to Linda Villella, Eddie's wife, who runs the company's school, she just laughed and said, “Wait till you see her sister, Jeanette. She's just as good!" I didn't believe it—until I saw Jeanette in action when she came along two years later.


The Delgado sisters are not only extraordinary dancers, they're extraordinary young women: ballerinas without a trace of pretension, self-satisfaction or opportunism. The reason isn't hard to find, once you know their parents. Millie (Migdalia) is a psychologist with a PhD from the University of Miami; Zeke (Ezequiel), with a bachelor's of science in industrial engineering and a master's in education, is a math teacher. Like their daughters, they're both completely grounded—as far from traditional ballet parents as it's possible to get. When Patricia said she wanted to go to ballet school, that was fine with them—and it would have been just as fine if she'd wanted to take up water-skiing or raise chickens.


Patricia, at right, with Edward Villella and sister Jeanette. Photo by Joe Gato, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

The senior Delgados saw, and see, their job as being there to support and advise their girls (when asked). At a crucial moment when Patricia had to decide whether to focus on dancing or to pursue an academic path (she was always at the top of her class), they helped clarify her choices and stood back. Luckily, Patricia knew that deep down she wanted to dance–not to be a ballerina, not to be a star, but to dance. And Jeanette wanted to do whatever her big sister was doing–never in a spirit of competition but in emulation. “I'm so lucky," she says, “to have my older sister as my best friend."

Millie's family emigrated to Miami from Cuba soon after Castro came to power, when some family property was nationalized. They never regretted it; there's none of that nostalgia for the old days. The girls, of course, are Miami-born and bred, went to Miami public schools, and led normal young American lives—with friends, activities and, in Jeanette's case, dates. Patricia's first and only date was with Matthew, a boy she met in high school, and that was that—a year ago they were married.

There have been only two major obstacles in Patricia's professional life. One was a serious injury that kept her offstage, her foot in a boot, for an entire season. The other was worrying whether Matt, who had a good job in New York, could find an equally good job back in Miami. The alternative was too painful to consider, but Patricia—the realistic daughter of realistic parents—had to consider it. Everyone breathed a lot easier when the job came through.

Leaving Miami City Ballet would have been an emotional disaster for Patricia (not a professional one; any ballet company would be happy to have her). “I feel like a deep-rooted part of Edward's company, of the creativity here, of the family environment. This is my place." Villella returns the feeling: “She's a total dancer," he says. “She can grow in every direction. And apart from her extraordinary abilities, she's such a delightful personality—she lights up any room she's in, be it class, rehearsal or onstage."

Observing her progress these past 10 years, I've noticed that even other dancers who might be envious of what she's achieved have nothing negative to say about her as a person, although for a while there were remarks about her “weak" feet. Needless to say, she worked on them obsessively, and a year ago had a difficult operation to relieve her of almost constant pain: A small extra bone—it's called an os trigonum—was removed from her ankle. For the first time, she now feels absolutely free to dance full-out, to stretch her technique without fear of hurting herself. You could see the difference this past season: She was not only radiant, but at 27, she was finally fully secure.


Delgado with Rolando Sarabia in George Balanchine's "Who Cares?" Photo by Alexandre Dufaur, Courtesy MCB.

Her range is already large. How many dancers go effortlessly from the “Man I Love" pas de deux in Who Cares? to “Sanguinic" in The Four Temperaments to In the Upper Room? She's classical—Swanilda, Kitri, eventually Giselle—and she's down and dirty: the sexy lead in Paul Taylor's Piazzolla Caldera. And surely she'll be one of the Juliets in the company's upcoming production of the John Cranko version of the ballet. She also hopes to push herself in the direction of the pyrotechnical Balanchine ballets like Ballo della Regina and Ballet Imperial—in a way, Jeanette's turf. Usually, it doesn't serve sisters well to work in the same company, but the Delgados' dance temperaments are so different that there's no problem. Jeanette has a thrillingly blithe propulsiveness and rock-solid technique. It's Patricia's refinement, repose and allure that instantly grab the audience's attention, and hold it. In Miami City Ballet, there's room for them both.

Although Patricia is such an integral part of the repertoire now, she remains eager and modest. “I've never thought of what I do as 'a career.' I've always only wanted to dance wonderful roles. And one of the great things about Miami is that we don't perform anything but the best choreography: Balanchine, Taylor, Tharp (we had a fabulous time with her when she was down here creating Nightspot on us), Robbins, the classics. I just go on working on my feet, on my line, hoping like everyone else that I'll be cast."

As for Villella, he sees Patricia Delgado as a perfect example of how the institution he founded 25 years ago can function. “She comes from Miami. She came through our school. She quickly made a wonderful impression on us and on our audience—she was so appealing we almost had to hold her back. She never makes problems. She's always ready, willing and more than able. If every ballerina had her talent, her temperament and her looks, the lives of artistic directors like me would be a cakewalk!"

Robert Gottlieb, former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, is the author of George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker and is currently the dance critic for The New York Observer.

Latest Posts


Vadim Shultz, Courtesy Mariinsky Ballet

Catching Up With Maria Khoreva: The Rising Mariinsky Star on Her TV Competition Win and New Book

The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down the Mariinsky Ballet's Maria Khoreva. Although Russia's Mariinsky Theater was closed in 2020 from March until August, the 20-year-old first soloist used the time in quarantine to her advantage. She wrote a newly published book titled Teach Me Ballet, and won Best Female Dancer on Russia's hit TV show "Grand Ballet," a competition which brings young ballet dancers from all parts of the country to the national spotlight. (This season, filmed over the summer, was broadcast on Russia's arts channel from November 4 to December 19. All seven episodes are now available on YouTube.)

Pointe spoke with Khoreva to find out more about her experience on the show, her fitness regime during quarantine and her new book.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Karolina Kuras, Courtesy ROH

The Royal Ballet’s Yasmine Naghdi Shares Her Go-to Self-Care Ritual and Her Favorite Recipe

Royal Ballet principal Yasmine Naghdi had been gearing up to star as the Sugarplum Fairy in a December livestream performance of The Nutcracker when London went back into heavy COVID-19 restrictions. The performance was canceled, but Naghdi has been taking this current setback, and the challenges the pandemic has brought over the last 10 months, in stride. In addition to keeping up with her training, she's been taking Italian lessons virtually and preparing elaborate meals with her boyfriend ("We're both real foodies," she says). Last fall, Naghdi, who has always loved cooking, travel, design and self-care, decided to share her offstage passions with fans on her new Instagram page, @lifestyle_by_yas.

Naghdi recently talked with us about staying flexible to the UK's lockdown changes and her post-performance wellness routine, plus offered a recipe for her favorite pasta dish.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

Editors' Picks