A Cuban dancer leaps to the Pennsylvania Ballet

This Thursday is opening night for the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “Cinderella” at the Academy of Music, led by artistic director Angel Corella. Behind the magic of the fairy tale is another story of hard work, discipline and passion that is lived by the dancers on a daily basis.

For Arian Molina Soca, who is performing as the Prince, this story has an additional chapter — leaving his home country of Cuba, for the opportunity to dance with the Pennsylvania Ballet full-time. We chatted with the newest star in the Philadelphia arts scene.

What does “Cinderella” mean to you?

The role of the Prince is one that I have never done before and it’s the first time I get to perform choreography by Ben Stevenson which is something that I have always wanted to do. I really enjoy the challenge of combining the steps with the storyline of Cinderella to make it all come together for the audience. The pas de deuxs are beautiful and it’s an honor to perform them.

When did you first want to be a dancer?

I decided I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer at 15. I followed this famous ballet dancer in Cuba, Rolando Sarabia. I never saw him perform in person, but watched him dance in videos and followed his career. The reason why I started ballet is because of our neighbors. They saw me and went to my mother and said, “Your son is very talented. You should bring him to class.”

Was your family supportive at first?
My first year in elementary level — which is like basic-level ballet — they were not supportive. They wanted me to be like my older brother, who is an engineer, and go to school. When I started being more serious and doing well, they understood.

What was it like to grow up in Cuba as a dancer?
It was very hard, especially because most of the time my transition was alone. I wasn’t born in the capital — I was born in a province about two hours from Havana. I lived very far. When I moved to Havana to start in the School of National Arts, I was only 15 and was all by myself. I never had my parents. My family told me that I could do it, and that I would be amazing, but I did have to do it alone. It did help me because I felt stronger later on when I joined the National Ballet of Cuba.

From your experience in the United States so far, how is dancing here different from Cuba?
From my perspective it’s different because in Cuba, I knew what the whole repertoire was. I knew that I was going to do “Cinderella” this month, “Swan Lake,” “Don Q” and so I knew the choreography. The choreography wasn’t going to change and I knew that. So here, it’s different because we are performing every month, or every two months, but a different choreography — a different show. Every two months I have to learn something new, where in the National Ballet of Cuba in the first year I learned the whole repertoire and then everything just repeated. So here, I actually have to use my brain.

I was told that once you leave Cuba to dance professionally in another country, you cannot return there to dance professionally. Can you explain that?

It depends who you are and how you left. There are very, very few in the whole history of the nation of Cuba who have gone back and professionally danced. There are but very few. It’s a very strict country — once you leave it’s very hard to go back.

How do you like living in Philadelphia?
I love it. I live inOld City. I love everything, but mostly my co-workers, where I live, my friends. In my spare time I take pictures of dancers.

What advice do you have for aspiring dancers out there?
I say to just fight. It’s a hard career but it’s beautiful. If you want it, just keep fighting.

“Cinderella” will be performed at the Academy of Music from Oct. 13-23.