AGE: 30-something
OCCUPATION: ballerina
HOMETOWN: Caracas, Venezuela
LIVES IN: Gold Coast

In Venezuela, when young girls decide they would like to float like a butterfly, they don’t just sign up for ballet class at the neighborhood dance school. So says Yumelia Garcia-McClaren, whose grandmother encouraged Yumelia’s mother to send the child to tryouts for a prestigious professional ballet school. Garcia-McClaren won a spot, beating out hundreds of other nine-year-olds, and graduated two years early at age 15. Hired right away by the National Ballet of Caracas, she attended full days of rehearsal and, in the evenings, studied to finish her high-school degree. “By the time I was 18, everyone kept pushing me to go farther,” Garcia-McClaren recalls. So the young ballerina hatched a plan to move to the United States—specifically to Cleveland, Ohio, where she knew one person—on a tourist visa, with the intention of staying. “I told my mother, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she says. “I almost killed her of a heart attack.” Today, Garcia-McClaren is reveling in her second season with the Joffrey Ballet and travels often to see her husband, who lives in West Palm Beach. Last December, her mother, visiting from Caracas to see the Joffrey’s Nutcracker, said to her daughter: “I was sitting in the audience and there you were—I thought about those days when I watched you dancing in the house.”



Photograph: Maria Ponce