Carving her own path and breaking through any boundary put in front of her is just a matter of course for Karina Gonzalez.
The Venezuelan native started ballet quite by accident as a young girl and with support from her family, decided to pursue it as a career. Gonzalez was offered a job with the Tulsa Ballet and, without knowing any English, she bravely left Venezuela for the United States at the age of 16. In 2010 she moved to Houston to work with Houston Ballet (the United States’ fifth largest ballet company by number of dancers) and has since been promoted to principal dancer.
Gonzalez is not only Houston Ballet’s first Latina principal ballerina; she is also a mother to 18-month-old Julia. Her calendar is full of rehearsals, costumes fittings as well as swimming lessons and nap times. She has managed to balance it all with grace, determination and the same strong work ethic that has gotten her this far. I sat down with Gonzalez to talk about dancing, motherhood and being a Latina role model.
Do you feel that your ethnicity has created any challenges in your career?
I feel that I have been blessed because I don’t think I have faced any challenges in that way. The biggest challenge I’ve had is that I didn’t speak English when I moved to the United States. I have always worked harder, because I left so much behind in my country; I left my family, my culture, and my country so I knew that I had to make it work.
There are few principal ballerinas of color on the national stage. What does it feel like to be a role model to a younger and more diverse generation?
When I came to this country, I never felt any different. In the ballet world, what is important is your talent and what you can bring to the stage. Yes, I do notice my skin color is different, and I don’t speak the same language, but what matters is that the audience can see my gift as a dancer and what I do onstage. It never occurred to me that coming to the United States and becoming a principal dancer was going to make such a big impact, but I am so honored to be considered a role model to other Latinas.
You are a principal dancer and also a mother. How do you balance both roles?
My life has changed completely, but in the best way possible. The only way I have managed is because I have a lot of support around me. My husband is so supportive of me and my career, and also my mom came here from Venezuela to help us. I was really scared when I first went back to work, because my schedule is so busy, but it has been wonderful. I have so many supportive people around me. And, when I am home – I give my all to my daughter.
Would you encourage your daughter if she also decided to be a dancer?
I would support anything she wanted to do, just like my mom did. I didn’t know I was going to be a dancer, but she saw my love of being in the studio and she encouraged me. My daughter is full of energy, and we think it might be time to put her in a little dance class. Of course, she will be exposed to ballet because of what I do.
What can fans of Houston Ballet look forward to this season?
I am really looking forward to Romeo & Juliet, because it has been one of my favorite ballets since I started dancing professionally, and I have the honor of being Juliet in this new version. I can’t wait to bring it back after a few years of personal experiences; I think I will bring a different maturity to the role.
Cover photo Amitava Sarkar. Courtesy Houston Ballet. Excerpts from this interview appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on October, 14, 2019.