In this ballet town, most people know the name José Carreño.
He retired from New York City’s American Ballet Theater as a principal dancer last summer; he had a stint on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” and for the duration of August, his namesake Carreño Dance Festival consumes the Sarasota Opera.
But to Carreño’s own ballet teacher, and one of the four jewels of Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Loipa Araújo, “He’s still a boy; he’s not a man,” she says as she smiles and affectionately points to her heart, “He’s my boy.”
Araújo joined the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955, and became a principal dancer 10 years later. Currently, the Havana-born 71-year-old has been guest teaching at the Royal Ballet in London, the Royal Danish Ballet, Ballet Natcional de Marseille, the Paris Opera, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Operá Nacional de Bordeaux and here in Sarasota. This is Araújo’s second year as master teacher at the Carreño Dance Festival Summer Intensive. Although she typically teaches professionals, this summer she’s working with young talent and pre-professionals from around the world.
“I have had Carreño in my arms since he was 8-months-old. (He’s) a little like my son,” Araújo explains of her connection to the dance festival. She not only watched him grow, and taught him when he was “a little one,” but taught him for the last three years of his career at ABT.
Araújo has been based in Madrid, where she was the director of choreography and interpretation at King Juan Carlos University, but come September, she will take on the role of associate director to the English National Ballet, in London. It was another special relationship with a past student and new artistic director of the ENB, Tamara Rojo, that will bring her there.
“I think, ‘I’m 71. It’s about time to slow down, stop traveling so much,’ but now this comes,” she laughs, “I feel young again.”
She considers herself the wealthiest woman in the world with all of her successful “sons” and “daughters” from around the world whom she has taught.
“You become satisfied, not because of what you do, but because of what the others do ... when you give, that is the most beautiful thing in the world,” she says.
Araújo attributes her success to the many wonderful teachers she had along the way. She was just 5 years old when she took her first dance class. It was with Blanca “Cuca” Martinez, sister of Alicia Alonso, one of the founders of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba who taught her to enjoy dance and gave her a great base.
And Fernando Alonso taught her what she considers the most important lesson: “You have to try to achieve perfection. You’ll never get it, but in your trying you will become a better dancer,” she says. “It works that way in life, too.”
Araújo began teaching what she calls “little ones” in 1962, at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. She believes she enjoyed it so much because it’s in her blood. Her mother was a great teacher and her father was a psychiatrist who taught herabout people.
“You have to treat students individually, and not as a group,” she says, “Each of them should feel like you are giving the class to him.”
Treating her students with respect is one of her biggest principles as a teacher. Their success becomes her success.
“(When) you see someone who never has stood en pointe, have their first steps en pointe … I enjoy (that),” she says. She also loves it when she reads about her past students in the newspaper. But sometimes, just a phone call from a former student brings her joy.
“Sometimes (Carreño) has called me (saying): “Maestra, I need you,” Araújo says, “And that makes me so happy, to know that what I gave him is still in him.”
IF YOU GO
The Carreño Dance Festival: ‘Junior Stars of Tomorrow’ — The culmination of three-weeks of rehearsals of nearly 100 young pre-professional and advance dance students from around the world.
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18
‘Festival of Stars’ — Features internationally recognized artists José Carreño, Julie Kent, Melanie Hamrick, Misty Copeland, Rubinald Pronk and Gennadi Saveliev sharing the stage with young dancers of the Summer Intensive.
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24; 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25
Cost: $20 to $65
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota
Info: Call 328-1300 or visit sarasotaopera.org/carrenofestival