THE Charm FACTOR

Article excerpt

WHAT MAKES A BALLERINA GLOW? MIAMI CITY BALLET'S PATRICIA DELGADO HAS THE SECRET.

ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO I turned up one morning to watch Eddie Villella's company class at Miami City Ballet, as I do most mornings when I'm in Miami, and there at the barre was a dancer I'd never seen before- a ravishingly beautiful girl with immense natural charm who was working as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the room. After watching her for 10 minutes I sidled over to ViIIeIIa and whispered. "Who is that girl? She's a star! Give her everything!"

He's used to tolerating my enthusiasms, but it was also clear that he didn't totally disagree, even though he wasn't going to say so. Her name was Patricia Delgado, he told me. She was 17. and she was an apprentice at the company, where ViIIeIIa is artistic director. When later in the day I said more or less the same thing to Linda ViIIeIIa. Eddie's wife, who runs the company's school, she just laughed and said, "Wait till you see her sister, Jeanette. She's just as good!" I didn't believe it- until I saw Jeanette in action when she came along two years later.

The Delgado sisters are not only extraordinary dancers, they're extraordinary young women: ballerinas without a trace of pretension, self-satisfaction or opportunism. The reason isn't hard to find, once you know their parents. Millie (Migdalia) is a psychologist with a PhD from the University of Miami; Zeke (Ezequiel). with a bachelor's of science in industrial engineering and a master's in education, is a math teacher. Like their daughters, they're both completely grounded- as far from traditional ballet parents as it's possible to get. When Patricia said she wanted to go to ballet school, that was fine with them- and it would have been just as fine if she'd wanted to take up water-skiing or raise chickens.

The senior Delgados saw. and see. their job as being there to support and advise their girls (when asked). At a crucial moment when Patricia had to decide whether to focus on dancing or to pursue an academic path (she was always at the top of her class), they helped clarify her choices and stood back. Luckily, Patricia knew that deep down she wanted to dance-not to be a ballerina, not to be a star, but to dance. And Jeanette wanted to do whatever her big sister was doing -never in a spirit of competition but in emulation. Tm so lucky," she says, "to have my older sister as my best friend."

Millie's family emigrated to Miami from Cuba soon after Castro came to power, when some family property was nationalized. They never regretted it: there's none of that nostalgia for the old days. The girls, of course, are Miami-born and bred, went to Miami public schools, and led normal young American lives- with friends, activities and, in Jeanettes case, dates. Patricia's first and only date was with Matthew, a boy she met in high school, and that was that- a year ago they were married.

There have been only two major obstacles in Patricia's professional life. One was a serious injury that kept her offstage, her foot in a boot, for an entire season. The other was worrying whether Matt, who had a good job in New York, could find an equally good job back in Miami. The alternative was too painful to consider, but Patricia- the realistic daughter of realistic parents- had to consider it. Everyone breathed a lot easier when the job came through.

Leaving Miami City Ballet would have been an emotional disaster for Patricia (not a professional one; any ballet company would be happy to have her). …