Having grown up studying ballet in New York City, and with dreams of being a ballet dancer, 79-year old Suzanne Salimbene continues to take ballet classes in Ajijic, with no plans of stopping any time soon.
She also happens to be a huge fan and supporter of Ballet de Jalisco – so much so that she started the group, Lakeside Friends of the Ballet de Jalisco.
Says Salimbene, “I was fortunate to develop a good relationship with Myriam Vachez, the Secretary of Culture for Jalisco, who engaged Dariusz Blajer to form and direct the state ballet company.”
During Ballet de Jalisco’s second performance in 2013 in Guadalajara, Salimbene and her friend found themselves seated next to Vachez.
“After the performance,” says Salimbene, “Myriam asked us how we liked the ballet. We replied that we loved it, adding that I happened to be a ballet fanatic.”
During the company’s next performance, Vachez introduced Salimbene to Slauka Ladewig, the company’s ballet mistress and former principal dancer of the National Ballet in Mexico City. From that day forward, Salimbene has become passionately involved with the company.
“Being that I’m a vicarious ballerina from the heart, I told Slauka that I’d enjoy watching company classes and rehearsals. I asked her if she would call me when they began rehearsing for the next ballet. Soon I was attending classes and rehearsals and getting to know all the dancers, sometimes commenting on their work.” Salimbene has enjoyed watching Ballet de Jalisco’s growth in the past five years. “At first I didn’t think any of the men would last six months. I now consider the company to be world class. I see how the company really gels. It’s got a personality, and everyone helps each other. Plus, Dariusz and the other teachers are all fabulous.”
With a new governor and state administration soon to be installed, many ballet aficionados share Salimbene’s concerns about the future of Ballet de Jalisco.
“Blajer, from Poland, is an amazing director and we don’t want to lose him,” she says. “A former dancer with the Bejar Ballet, he worked with the National Ballet in Mexico City and still travels to Mexico City to teach at the National Ballet school.”
On September 20, Ballet de Jalisco will offer two world premiers in one performance at Guadalajara’s Teatro Degallado: “Carmen,” choreographed by visiting Canadian choreographer Mark Godden, and “Bolero,” choreographed by Blajar.
Having studied ballet from age 7 to 15, Salimbene realized early on that she didn’t have the body or technique to become a professional dancer. Instead, she attended ballet performances all over the world.
“I’ve always been surrounded by dance,” she says. “A relative taught me how to ballroom dance so I wouldn’t feel self-conscious on the dance floor, as my mother did. During my high school years, students from Puerto Rica and Cuba taught me how to dance the Cha Cha and the Mambo.”
Prior to living in Ajijic, Salimbene lived in Guadalajara for over eight years. Although mostly retired, she taught English as a second language, cultural competency in healthcare and wrote professionally.
“I moved to Guadalajara because, as a New Yorker, I love big cities,” she says.
Finding herself living far from the city center, she began to feel isolated, having to rely on buses or cabs to get where she needed to go. Also, as a non-native Guadalajara resident, she had a hard time making friends – quite a different experience from her two and a half years of living in Ajijic.
Although I knew about lakeside,” she says, “I swore I’d never move there. I wanted to live in ‘real’ Mexico, not a place with so many gringos like myself.”
Yet, once she landed in the village, not only did she make good friends but discovered lakeside’s expansive support system for expats. “If I needed to know something I’d post a question online and get 30 answers in an hour.”
Come December, a new Secretary of Culture will step in and the future of Ballet de Jalisco will be completely in their hands.
Says Salimbene, “The new secretary can choose to bring in their own ballet stars, which is causing the director and the dancers to feel anxious about their future with the company.”
She continues: “Having put on two fundraisers for the company, I have an extensive mailing list of attendees, and am hoping they will all sign a letter I wrote supporting Dariusz’s continued leadership. I also realize I need to handle this matter delicately.”
Salimbene’s dance plate is always full in Ajijic. “I take ballet and tango classes three times a week and practice the Cuban dance, danzon, Sundays in the plaza. Dancing is the most important thing in my life. Despite trouble with my knees, I feel like a fairy princess when I’m dancing. Once I get home, I ice my knees and am good to go.”