Paloma Herrera celebrates a life of dance

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"To dance is my life," Argentine ballerina Paloma Herrera said as she celebrated 20 years this month with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

Modest and very un-diva like, Herrara is at 35 one of the symbols of the nation's foremost ballet troupes. She has been a principal dancer since 1995.

"At ABT, you learn so much from all the dancers who are there," said Herrera, who joined the company from her native Buenos Aires in 1991.

"We have cultures from all the world, dancers from all the world... To be 20 years with the company, you really have to love it. And I love it because it's always a place of inspiration."

Bestowed with extraordinary talent from a young age, Herrera began her ballet studies at age seven, and at 11, moved to the former Soviet Union to study at the Minsk Ballet School.

She later studied in London and at New York's School of American Ballet, where she was chosen after just six months to dance the lead role in "Raymonda" (1898) created by Marius Petipa, the maitre de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, with music by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.

At 17, she was promoted to ABT soloist and two years later, to principal ballerina.

As one of 17 principal ballerinas, Herrera is currently dancing in "The Bright Stream," which is set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich. But she will also perform in "Coppelia", "Swan Lake," "The Sleeping Beauty" and "Don Quixote" before the summer is over.

Argentina's consulate in New York provided a warm tribute this week, including a showing of the documentary "Paloma Herrera, Here and Now" before an audience that cheered her onstage prowess and relished an opportunity to speak with her.

"The truth is I'm not a great fan of competitions," she told the crowd, "but I have to say that they really helped me.

"I can't remember since I was seven years old not dancing," she said with a smile, adding that when she has precious free time, "I'm off to the movies, I go the theater, I go to concerts, I go for dinner with friends."

When dancing, she said "everything else is out. The outside world is just different."

She prefers not to reflect too much on the future. "I live the moment," said Herrera.

"I try to enjoy 100 percent today because you never know what can happen tomorrow."