Mónica Gómez overcame her shyness and performed a nuanced Kitri. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

This Houston Ballet Soloist Dances a Fiery Kitri and Geeks Out Over Bill Nye the Science Guy

Mónica Gómez became Houston Ballet's newest It girl overnight after her sensational April performance of Kitri. All fire, but with ample doses of flash, Gómez brought her natural star power to the role's nuances. "I am a very shy person," says the soloist, "so I had to work on my sass." Her richly textured dancing, combined with her incredibly expressive eyes and virtuosity, created magic onstage.

Company: Houston Ballet

Hometown: Havana, Cuba

Training: Cuban National Ballet School

Age: 26

Accolades: International Ballet Competition in Havana (grand prix, gold for pas de deux)

Breakout role: Gómez danced Princess Stephanie in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's epic historical ballet Mayerling last September, only a month after the city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. She was promoted to soloist during the run. "It was so dramatic and the first time I had to convey such suffering," she says.

Gómez and Charles Yoshiyama rehearsing for The Tempest. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Time well spent: Gómez built her powerhouse technique by putting in the hours with Ramona de Saa and her other Cuban teachers: Fernando, Alberto and Alicia Alonso; and Martha Iris Fernandez, Svetlana Ballester and Loipa Araújo. "It wasn't unusual for us to stay after hours," she says. "There's a lot of repetition in our training, which is why we are so strong. I love to turn and I'm not bad at it."

"I hope she will be a principal soon. That is her trajectory." —Stanton Welch

Havana to Houston: Coming to the U.S. was a choice for Gómez's artistic growth, and Houston Ballet was her first-pick company. "I've been able to dance so much work by other choreographers, and the company is so supportive. Everyone cheers for you. It's like a big family." Of course, being here has come at a cost. "I miss my family and my beautiful city so much."

What Stanton Welch is saying: "She is really lifting our game and helping us become an international company," says Houston Ballet's artistic director. "She's brave, fearless. Her dedication is extraordinary."

Biggest challenge so far: "Being a bird!" Gómez made her Odette/Odile debut in June in Welch's Swan Lake, showing off a stoic yet elegant Odette and a diabolical fierceness as Odile. "The role of Odette/Odile is so surreal. But in this version we also get to be a maiden, so that is more relatable."

Gómez and company artists rehearsing Serenade. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Life outside of the studio: On days off, Gómez bikes in the park, and she has taken to Houston's green spaces with verve. "I love nature," she says. "I also love TV like a normal person. 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' is my fave show."

What's on her bucket list: "I've always wanted to dance Manon and Giselle, of course."

Superpower: "I love salsa dancing! It's my passion. And lucky for me there are fabulous Houston social clubs to go to."

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TaraMarie Perri in tree pose at Storm King Art Center. Photo by Sophie Kuller, Courtesy Perri

5 Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do to Calm Your Anxiety

Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.