Margarita de Saá White, Cuban Ballerina and Beloved Ballet Teacher, Dies at 77
The ballet world recently lost one of its legends. Margarita de Saá White, along with her identical twin sister Ramona, was selected at 11 years old by Alicia and Fernando Alonso to study at their ballet school which gave birth to the National Ballet of Cuba. Moving through the ranks, Margarita was destined to rise to Prima Ballerina within the company. She was one of the National Ballet of Cuba’s “jewels.” Growing in popularity with the Cuban audience, she became well known for her signature roles. Margarita was only the second Cuban dancer to perform the leading role in “Coppelia,” after Alicia Alonso herself. Fidel Castro was one of her ardent fans. Margarita often said that the National Ballet of Cuba was like a second family to her. Fernando and Alicia Alonso were like another set of parents.
During those years, she met and married John White, an American dancer who had been invited by Alicia Alonso to join the company. The Whites performed internationally. They began their teaching careers after learning the Vaganova teaching method from Soviet ballet masters. In 1964, following Fidel Castro’s revolution, Margarita, her husband, and their young son left Cuba for the United States where they pursued their dance careers and became respected teachers. Her twin Ramona, married to one of Castro’s body guards, remained in Cuba. The twins’ once inseparable relationship was shattered.
Living in Southern California, Margarita, affectionately known as “Mangy,” continued to teach and perform. Among a variety of television and live appearances, she also performed as one of the swans in Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl” and in James Coburn’s “In Like Flint.”
In 1969, Margarita and her husband were invited by Barbara Weisberger to join the faculty of the Pennsylvania Ballet where they remained for five years until founding their own school, Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in Narberth, a Philadelphia suburb. The school continues to train students who wish to study the art of ballet and who also demand the very best dance training available. Many graduates are dancing professionally in ballet companies throughout the world.
Here, Margarita found her third family. She was beloved by her students for her warmth, charm, humor, kindness and extraordinary knowledge of classical ballet which she generously shared with others.
Margarita and her sister Ramona, currently the director of the National Ballet School in Cuba, were the subjects of a 2005 PBS documentary called Mirror Dance. The film brought the estranged twins together for the first time in 40 years. Margarita had, at last, returned to her beloved Cuba.
Margarita de Saá White is survived by her devoted husband John, children Melinda (Ernest) Pendleton and John (Laura) White, sister Ramona, brother Jovito, four grandchildren, and hundreds of present and former students.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society. Donations received by PABS in her honor will be earmarked for the Margarita de Saá White Memorial Fund c/o The Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society, 29 N. Narberth Avenue, Narberth, PA 19072. (610) 664-3455.