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Ballet's 'Flying Cuban' Looks Toward Home

Aug 11, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Ballet dancer Carlos Acosta is known for powerful leaps that make him seem to fly. Those leaps have earned him comparisons with Nureyev and Baryshnikov.

Growing up in Cuba in the 1980s, Acosta would have much preferred a different comparison: to the Brazilian soccer star Pele.

As he tells Renee Montagne, Acosta grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods outside Havana. And he was a young boy in a racially mixed family — his mother was white and his father black — when there was still a lot of prejudice in Cuba.

How that boy became a man whose ability to dance with grace and charisma — and to leap to astonishing heights — earned the nicknames "The Flying Cuban" and "Air Acosta" is the subject of Acosta's memoir, No Way Home.

In the book, Acosta recalls how he felt "embraced' by the small world known as Los Pinos, the small suburb where his family lived.

And after ballet entered his life, Acosta went on to win a top international ballet prize at 16; dance as the first black Romeo at London's Royal Ballet; and choreograph a ballet based on his childhood.

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