When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

They said yes, setting Lopez on track to be the first woman the Trust has ever allowed to perform the role, which she did this past weekend.

Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

In Circus Polka, which Robbins created in 1972 for NYCB's Stravinsky Festival, the Ringmaster leads a group of young girls through a series of simple ballet steps. "There are pictures of Jerry in this role looking so handsome and joyful onstage," Lopez says. "The Ringmaster is someone who is very proud to be out there showing off these kids. It's adorable and heartwarming and puts a huge smile on your face."

Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

Though the role doesn't require much dancing, Lopez admitted to having butterflies after many years away from the stage. And it's nice to know that even she struggles with counting Stravinsky: "The counts aren't systematic in any way. That was my biggest challenge."

She's also made some new friends in the process: The 50+ young MCB school students featured in Circus Polka. "Now whenever they see me they're like 'Hi, Ms. Lopez!' I've become their buddy."

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