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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Dance

Kentuckians in Dance

Principal Dancer Rafaela Cento Muñoz
Lexington, KY

Who Rafaela Cento Muñoz is a native of Cuba and a recent American citizen. She has been the principal female dancer of the Kentucky Ballet Theatre since its founding in 1998. She was trained at the Camaguey Ballet Academy and the Professional Ballet Academy of Cuba, where she received the Gold Medal and the Grand Prix for best female performance in the National Ballet Festival of Cuba. She has toured with the Camaguey Ballet Company in Brazil, Uruguay, Jamaica, Venezuela, Mexico, Martinique, and the Guadeloupe Islands. Rafaela is also director of the Kentucky Ballet Theatre Academy.

What “My job is to represent the company. I have a lot of weight on my shoulders, because I have to do the principal roles. I have to be in good shape all the time. In ballet, you keep learning every day, and you have to practice and practice to achieve perfection. I also help my husband [Kentucky Ballet Artistic Director Norbe Risco Avila] with rehearsals and choreography.”

When/Where “I practice five days a week—Tuesday through Saturday—from 10:00 in the morning to 4:30. We dance at the theater four times during the season, plus Ballet Under the Stars in Woodland Park. Plus I do a lot of guesting, including in Owensboro and Chicago as the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

How “I work with my husband as artistic director, and with the other dancers. I also work with students as director of Kentucky Ballet Theatre Academy. I think everything is a challenge. In our company, we do a lot of classical ballets. Classical ballets are very hard—for example, the pas de deux [featured dances for male and female principals] in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Sleeping Beauty. You have to be so clean in your technique, so soft and pure. This has been done for so long. As a dancer, it's my responsibility to keep that alive for the next generation. It's not that you did it; it's how you did it—how you're maintaining that beautiful thing that was created so many years ago. My challenge is to keep my body in shape and my mind focused. I'm a perfectionist, and when I see my videos I want to do better all the time.”

Why “What I like best is the performance, because I feel like I'm in heaven. It's the perfect moment. You feel like all the hard work paid off. My goal as a dancer is to keep educating this community. I don't think they are getting as much art as they should. People should see the importance of arts to their kids. I want to be here and show the next generation what I have learned and all the things that I have done for them to be better than me. That's what I tell my students all the time. I cannot dance forever, and I love to work with kids.”

Getting There “Everybody is open to take ballet classes in the U.S. You don't get rich dancing, but if someone really likes it, that's the most important thing. They need to have it in their hearts. Every day they come here and do the same thing, and you need to like what you do so much that you can work hard every day.”

About the photo: Rafaela is shown dancing the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera.


600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951