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Lilyan Vigo Ellis is a principal dancer at Carolina Ballet. This week’s production of “Carmen” will be her final performance.

Lilyan Vigo Ellis. Courtesy of Carolina Ballet.

There has not been a day in my entire life where I didn’t want to dance. Growing up in Miami, I was outside of my older sister’s dance lesson when her teacher discovered me. Normally you had to be 5 years old to be accepted into her program, but she made an exception and took me at the age of the three.

[Related: This ballerina is hanging up her pointe shoes]

From then on, I was determined and driven to dance. I met Carolina Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert “Ricky” Weiss when I was 19 and he was starting the company. When my parents were worried about me moving away to join, I told them not to worry and that I would be back in a few years. Now, here I am almost twenty years later!

In all this time, the quality of dancers has never changed under Ricky’s guidance. Carolina Ballet came in at a high level of the arts — and it’s been an incredible experience to see how Raleigh has embraced the company. I came to Raleigh knowing no one, and it has given me a home and a life with an extended family and supportive community.

I knew that Carolina Ballet was something special and serious for me at the end of our first season; that’s when I danced the role of Juliet for the first time in “Romeo & Juliet.” I felt like I was a nobody, and there I was doing second cast for such a phenomenal role. I’ve been very fortunate to dance a number of amazing lead roles, such as the Butterfly and Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker.” The most difficult role in my career was Giselle in “Giselle,” because technically it is very difficult with many jumps in the sequences and involves a lot of control and stamina.

Of all of the roles I’ve danced over the past 19 seasons, my favorite has to be Carmen. The Hispanic style is literally in my blood — my father is Cuban and my mother grew up in Venezula. “Carmen” is a Spanish ballet with beautiful music, flavor and sass, and I can relate to it a lot for its energy.

When I heard that we would be ending this season with “Carmen,” something just felt right about the timing. We last performed the show in 2009, and I had always dreamt of retiring with “Carmen” but never imagined that I would be with the company long enough to see it come back. I’m very proud to do this show as my very last!

“Carmen” performed by the Carolina Ballet

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, May 18-20 with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 20-21
Where: Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh.
Tickets: Start at $30, plus tax; purchase here
More info: www.carolinaballet.com or 919-719-0900 or 919-680-2787

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