Interview with ballet dancer Isaac Hernandez: Changing Mexico through the arts | Talk to Al Jazeera

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Published on 21 Sep 2019, 14:36
Isaac Hernandez has an ambitious dream: He hopes to help change his country through the medium of dance.

As the first Mexican to hold the prestigious role of lead principal dancer at the English National Ballet, the 29-year-old has already achieved a great deal. Two years ago he was named Best Male Dancer at ballet's equivalent of the Oscars.

"I consider [dance] a human right," he tells Al Jazeera, "something that is an instinct that we all have."

Along with his 10 brothers and sisters, Hernandez was taught dance at an early age in the back yard of their home in Guadalajara by parents who were also dancers.

"Ballet has been so exciting at different points in my life," he says. "Because when I was just starting to dance it was purely recreational. But when I started to understand the mechanics and the techniques behind it, and started realising how that was pushing my physical ability to the limit and to discover new limits, that was just pure excitement. And the moment that I felt that on stage, then I understood what freedom meant."

Despite living and performing around the world since he was 13, his heart remains in Mexico.

"There are realities about Mexico that, no matter how high I jump and how many turns I do, we cannot ignore; really there are real issues in my country that need to be addressed. For a very long time now, it's been very violent, it's been very corrupt," he says.

"But I have always been hopeful for my country because I recognise an essence in its people that gives me hope, that made me go back and say there's people here that are worth working for. And we need to be able to do it well."

Hernandez emphasises the need to do things without a political agenda, and for the wellbeing of individuals and the future of the country.

He set up a project to bring world-class dancers to Mexico to perform, teach in workshops, and inspire young dancers there. But government funding for the project has faced hurdles.

"One of the most popular sayings in Mexico is, if you are an artist you are going to starve, and the other one is that boys don't do ballet, and that ballet is a hobby, not a serious profession. So based on those three main issues that get passed through generations, I understood that the first thing that needs to happen is to change the mind of the parents for them to feel like their kids' passion could be a profession."

He believes that promoting the value of the arts could also be a way to help build Mexico's economy.

"I saw a huge potential in Mexico that was not being considered in that sense," he says. "So I started to promote a different way of seeing arts; not only as a tool for education, but as a tool for social mobility, so that a kid who starts dancing in a backyard can make a living, can improve his life, and by consequence improve a whole country."

On Talk to Al Jazeera, Hernandez discusses the joy of dance, why the arts urgently need government support in Mexico, and how young people should have the chance to realise their dreams.

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