Cuban born, Alicia Alonso Martinez moved to New York at the age of 16 to marry her lover and attempt to break into the ballet market Stateside. Her career was nearly brought to a premature end when she nearly ruined her eyesight by dancing while recovering from a retinal operation, despite being told to rest completely. She suffered from peripheral vision issues for the rest of her life. She returned to Cuba following Castro’s coup in 1959 and founded the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. One of the first signs of Cuba thawing relations with the rest of the world was allowing Martinez to dance in the West in the early 70s – despite being in her 50s she was still seen as one of the world’s finest ballerinas, and she danced well into her 70s. Her stewardship of the Cuban national ballet was controversial though – dancers left the country not to defect to the West, but rather because they were tired of her dictatorial choreography.