Why I Dance: Paloma Herrera

Retiring principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre

Herrera, here as Odette, takes her final bow with ABT this season. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT.

Herrera, here as Odette, takes her final bow with ABT this season. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy ABT. 

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to dance. At 7 years old, without having anybody in the family who danced or any connections with the ballet world, I told my mom that I wanted to dance on pointe. I have no idea how I knew about it. But whenever my family listened to classical music I danced around the house. I thought people were born knowing what they wanted to do; I never understood that other people had to think about it.  

Dance has been my passion, my love, my religion, my bubble—my life! But more than anything, dance has shaped my way of living. I live every part of life to the fullest. If I’m cleaning the house, I’m cleaning full-out, with feeling. If I’m listening to music, it makes me fly. Dance has taught me that everything is better with passion. The experiences that we go through in this career, the way we do things, it’s created my personality. Nothing in my life is light; just as I approach my work as a dancer, everything is intense! And I love it that way.  

I never understood why people came to see me dance. I always danced because I love it and it makes me happy, but what could I do for others? Yet the more I sat in the audience myself, the more I understood. Dance performances, books, plays, concerts fulfill my soul in ways that words can’t express. (I guess that is why I became a dancer, so I could express things words can’t.) I hope that my work onstage has done at least a little of what other artists did for me.  

I would have thought that after performing for 24 years, I would be over dance. But I’m still waiting for that day to come. I’m retiring, and it’s still not happening. I look back, and realize I couldn’t have asked for a better dream. It was so much more than I ever could have imagined at 7. But I no longer have to be dancing myself. Even watching from the other side of the stage fulfills me because I can see more than ever that dance is not what I do, but it’s a way of life, in everything I do. It is who I am.