Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes and celebrates the cultures and contributions of Hispanics in the U.S. Orlando Ballet is committed to celebrating the diversity that makes our community stronger. Company dancer, Luis Gonzalez shares his story. Luis is originally from Bogota, Colombia, where he grew up before moving to Atlanta, Georgia. Gonzalez joined Orlando Ballet in 2012 through 2015. From there, he joined Joffrey Ballet in 2015 and danced works by John Newmeyer, Chris Whealdon, Miles Thatcher, Anabelle Lopez, and Jerome Robins. He has performed at Palais Garnier, Koch Theatre, Kennedy Center, and Dorothy Chandler. Gonzalez returned to the Orlando Ballet in 2019.
Being Latino is so much a part of my identity that it’s hard to know how to separate it from myself in order to describe what it means to me. I feel tremendous gratitude to my culture, and the accomplishments of Hispanic people who have paved the way for me socially and artistically; In many ways I know that all artistic accomplishments I’ve made in my career stand on their shoulders.
From Ballet artists like Fernando Bujones, Fernando Montaño and Carlos Acosta to pop Icons like Shakira, Gloria Estefan, Maluma and Celia Cruz, Writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez to my parents. The legacy of contribution to society by Hispanic people is undeniable and it is one that I am proud and grateful to be a part of. The three things I kept coming back to through my memories that I correlate with my Latin identity were; kindness, work ethic, and choosing joy.
I was raised to always greet a stranger with a smile and to treat all people with the same level of respect. I remember my grandmother Maria Teresa taking me with her to street markets when I was little and greeting every vendor as a long-time friend. They all knew her by name and some even referred to her endearingly as “vecina” (neighbor). It’s a grounding principle of what being Latino means to me to see all people as equals and to extend them all equal kindness and respect.
I also have had the blessing of seeing the work ethic of the Colombian people in many different regions of the country; both rural and metropolitan, and I’ve seen time and time again that Latinos are not afraid to get up earlier, stary later or put in the extra work when they are passionate about something. When my family first immigrated from Colombia to the United States in 2002 we had very little. My parents have had to work tirelessly my entire life to give my siblings and I everything they could. They had to leave their tight knight Latino families, friends and professional prospects all to give us a chance at more possibilities. To this day my mom remains one of my biggest role models. Since I can remember she has demonstrated unconditional kindness and compassion, resilience both professionally and personally, and unyielding passion and work ethic for her profession.
I think that Latino’s generally feel happy, because they understand that the perception of happiness is subjective. Many Latin American regions have lived with war and difficulty throughout their histories which one might expect to be cause for low rates of happiness, but in Colombia people have always demonstrated incredible, Herculean and powerful resilience to their sometimes harsh and tumultuous history. In general, we are a culture that values what we have; we love people and music – which we carry in our blood and hearts. These are great passions we carry throughout our lives. Expressions of joy and appreciation for each other like our social dance Salsa, are in a way a refresher of human dignity. It overshadows inequity and discontent with sharp rhythms and the madness of love. In my experience, one can see evidence of dance, and art freeing the Latino spirit translating to our value system every day.