'I knew this is what I want to be:' Cuban native becomes Milwaukee Ballet star

MILWAUKEE -- She works tirelessly to make complex choreography look effortless. At the age of 26, Marize Fumero is living her dream as a leading artist for the Milwaukee Ballet, but to make this stage of her life a reality, the young ballerina had to leap through many obstacles.

"From 9 years old, when I started doing ballet, I knew this is what I want to be. This is what I want to do. No question about it," said Fumero.

Marize Fumero

Her talent stretches from her fingertips to her toes.

Marize Fumero

"She's a very stunningly beautiful lady. She has all the physical attributes that you would look for in a classical dancer," said Michael Pink, artistic director.

Born and raised in Cuba, Fumero recalled a life with limited resources. She trained at the Cuban National Ballet School.

"I used to wear a pair of pointe shoes during two years. Right now, I use one pair a week," said Fumero.

Her father would fix her shoes as best he could.

"My dad, he didn't know anything about pointe shoes at all, but he fixed my shoes. There was no other way," said Fumero.

Her family always seemed to find the way.

"I learned to do my own clothes in Cuba. I really love sparkles. I love sewing. I make all my skirts for ballet. I love making head pieces," said Fumero.

It's something she  learned from her mother.

"It's like a hobby for me. I love doing that," said Fumero.

After graduation, she joined the Cuban National Ballet. At the age of 21, she made the difficult choice of leaving her family and country for the first time, to join the English National Ballet in London. She only knew how to pronounce one word.

"I just get there and I see people and all I can say is 'hi.' If they put their arm like that, I knew what they were talking about. Otherwise I was lost -- completely lost. That was really hard for me in the beginning," said Fumero.

She balanced grueling training schedules and English classes at night.

The opportunity to come to the United States opened up with the Milwaukee Ballet.

"She has a great work ethic. I find more of the international people that I’ve worked with throughout my career, particularly when they come from countries like Cuba, where they've had to work terribly hard to get to where they are today, not only to be able to study in their country, but to leave that country and explore their careers," said Pink.

Fumero is now entering her fifth season. She's busy conquering a list of diverse roles.

"When I do evil roles, it's amazing. I feel really empowered," said Fumero.

Most recently, she portrayed the wicked stepmother in "Mirror Mirror," a twist on the classic tale of Snow White. Crossing over to darker roles is appealing for her. She said her future ambitions are not driven by a desire for fame, but a desire to move an audience with her footwork.

"She sets a standard in the company. She is a great role model for them about how you behave as an artist if you want to succeed," said Pink.

She shared this message for the aspiring dancers in her classroom:

"You keep rehearsing and rehearsing and making your piece like a diamond -- the best it could be," said Fumero.

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