She’s the National Ballet’s longest serving dancer. Now Sonia Rodriguez is retiring at age 49 | CBC News

When Sonia Rodriguez started taking ballet lessons at age 12, little did she know she would grow up to become the longest serving dancer for the National Ballet of Canada.

Most ballerinas retire somewhere between 35 and 40 due to the wear and tear of age or a career-ending injury. Rodriguez is leaving at age 49 after 32 years on the stage and after more than two decades as the company’s principal dancer.

“I do love the challenge,” said Rodriguez. “I feel like I’m going to have to keep moving, honestly, because I think if I don’t, I won’t be walking very well.”

She’ll reprise her 2017 role as tragic heroine Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire for her last performances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Rodriguez joined the National Ballet in 1990 and spent decades starring in classics such as Swan LakeRomeo and JulietThe Sleeping BeautyGiselleManonThe Firebird and Princess Vasilisa and Marguerite and Armand.

WATCH | Rodriguez reflects on her 32-year career with the National Ballet of Canada:

The National Ballet’s principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez is retiring after 32 years

Sonia Rodriguez, principal dancer with The National Ballet, is retiring after a 32 year career on the stage. Her last show, A Streetcar Named Desire, opens on March 2. CBC Toronto spoke with Rodriguez about her career and plans for post-retirement. 2:35

The Toronto native recalls falling in love with ballet after initially dreading the “constricting” lessons she signed onto as a child. Although she’s retiring after doing everything she’s sought to do in her career, she says she’s not hanging up her shoes entirely. She says she’ll dance in smaller projects, or even just for herself.

“It’s given me everything,” said Rodriguez. “No matter what was going on in my life, that was the one thing I could rely on — to be there and know that I was in control, and it was me and it was my time.”

Rodriguez comes from a generation of ballerinas who took on lead roles well into their 40s.

She’s retiring after following in the footsteps of renowned National Ballet principal dancers Greta Hodgkinson, who performed for three decades, and Karen Kain, whose career lasted 28 years.

Hodgkinson is an artist-in-residence, teaching and coaching the company’s next generation of dancers, while Kain recently stepped down as artistic director after years of putting Canadian ballet talent on the international map.

As the company’s longest-serving ballerina, colleagues are already missing Rodriguez’s presence in the studio.

“She’s there before everyone else, and it’s consistent and it’s every day,” said Rex Harrington, a coach and artist-in-residence who has known Rodriguez throughout her entire career and is helping direct her final performance.

“That’s what you need to do in order to have that career,” he said. “It’s a great example that she sets for the younger dancers by showing the dedication and what it takes to maintain and be at that level.”

Rodriguez and Spencer Hack rehearse as Blanche DuBois and Allan Gray in A Streetcar Named Desire. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

One of those young dancers, Spencer Hack, says he has a hard time believing he’s getting the chance to dance with her in her farewell performance.

“She’s such an amazing artist and has been one of my favourite dancers for a really long time,” said Hack.

“To be able to share the stage with her is a dream.” 

Finishing with a ballet as complex as A Streetcar Named Desire was deliberate. Not only does she get to dance with most of her colleagues for a full-length performance, but she only performed this ballet once before.

“To revisit it a second time and start from a different starting point and develop it even more… it’s a dream come true to be able to do it one more time before I go.”

While she’ll miss the thrill of performing onstage, it’s the small moments between colleagues in class and in rehearsals Rodriguez will remember most

“[When] we finished, I went on the floor and just looked at Greta [Hodgkinson] and went, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m just going to miss you so much,”‘  Rodriguez told CBC News.

“And she started tearing up, and I started tearing up, and … this is what’s going to be the hardest for me.”

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