Carlos Acosta CBE

Attribution: Pedro J Pacheco 


In ballet, there is freedom and beauty. There is also pain and sacrifice.” C.A.

Carlos Acosta CBE has been described as “a dancer who slashes across space faster than anyone else, who lacerates the air with shapes so clear and sharp they seem to throw off sparks.” His fabled grace and athleticism has earned him comparisons to the like of Rudolf Nureyev.

Carlos Acosta was born in Cuba in June 1973.  He is of mixed Spanish and African heritage. The name Acosta was that of the plantation on which his paternal great-grandmother had been enslaved. He was brought up in one of Havana’s poorest districts. His father was a truck driver, often away from home and his mother often suffered from health problems. The young Carlos, an over-energetic child,  spent his time playing football, break-dancing and raiding nearby mango groves with his friends.  His father, fearing that Carlos would eventually land in serious trouble, decided that dance training at one of the state-funded schools would teach the boy discipline as well as provide him with a free lunch every day. Carlos was considered gifted by his teachers but he hated ballet and missed the life of ‘a steet kid’. Whilst his father was in jail for a couple of years, Carlos managed to get himself expelled from dance school. However,once out of jail,  his father insisted that Carlos become a boarder at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Carlos was bored, homesick and unhappy, but everything changed  the day Carlos watched a ballet production by professional male ballet dancers. The young Carlos was won over. Inspired, he now had a vision and a purpose!

What happened next?

With his natural talent and drive to succeed, at the age of 16, 1990 became an important and life changing year for Carlos when he won the presstigious Gold Medal at the Prix De Lausanne. This was soon followed by several other awards that helped him on his way to success. From 1989 to 1991 Carlos performed throughout the world. At 18, he became the English National Ballet’s youngest ever principal.  Later, Carlos Acosta became the first black principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. He was the Company’s Principal Guest artist for 17 years. He retired from classical ballet in 2016.

As well as being awarded a CBE in 2014, Carlos also received the Queen Elizabeth ll Coronation Award by the Royal Academy of Dance in 2018.  In January 2020, Acosta was appointed as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. His aim is to build on the Company’s classical traditions whilst expanding its repertoire and reaching out to new and more diverse audiences. He believes that “ …everybody should be represented on stage.”

Would like to find out more about Carlos Acosta? Listen to him speak? Watch him dance? 

One could not help but be charmed and inspired by this ‘pauper to prince’ story of a young boy who fulfils his potential through his natural talent and hard work, his father’s belief in him and the dedication of his teachers.

Clara Waters