Editor’s note: I read an article in El Español earlier today and felt that this story needs to be told in English; the result is this feature “Ballerina with Alzheimer’s: The Untold Story of Marta Cinta”. The original article was written by Jaime Susanna and I admire and praise the investigative journalism done in regards to this story. After a video by the organization Música Para Despertar went viral this week, many questions were raised about who the ballerina with Alzheimer’s really is. I hope that I have done Susanna’s work justice in my translation.
She lived in Cuba, danced in New York, taught in Madrid, and triumphed after her dying in a nursing home in Alcoy, where she dreamed of doing a ballet with the elderly.
In Cuba she was called Rosamunda; in Madrid and New York, Marta Cinta; but on her Spanish identification card it appeared as Marta González Saldaña. Surely none of these names tell you anything, but if we speak of the elderly woman who passionately dances Swan Lake from her wheelchair, maybe she will sound familiar. The video of this woman that became viral this week and has quickly made its way through social networks and other media, has incited passion for the tenderness of its image.
Behind this small fragment of video there is a movie-like life: a relocation to Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba, the arrival to the top of the New York dance world, a ballet school in Madrid, and a funny story of love in old age. All this with a muddle of dates that would make even Sherlock Holmes scratch his head.
Spanish media El Español has investigated the life of Marta González in order to discover what is behind this woman who, just like Princess Odette – Queen of the Swans in Tchaikovsky’s libretto – transforms with the melody and begins to move her arms in wing-like movement while submerged in a trance that brings her back to her glory days. As if the spirit were much younger than the body that encompasses it, Marta flies away like in times gone by, much before her time in a wheelchair, when she received applause in theaters around the world, when the press surrendered to her talent, or when she left her young students with gaping mouths wide open with her “majestic” presence.
Video of Ballerina with Alzheimer's (Música para Despertar)
Marta was born in Madrid in the mid-1920s. Her exact birthdate is a mystery since she never said her age and is personally responsible for falsifying it. “In her [Spanish] National Identity Card the date is falsified. You would ask her and she would say she was 40 years-old. Instead of adding years, she was going backwards (laughter)”, explains Inmaculada Vilar, the director of the nursing home Muro de Alcoy where Marta spent the last few years of her life. “We calculated that she was born around 1924. But her National Identity Card says she was born in ’49, and that now she would be around 70 years-old. That is impossible”.
What she did say was where she was born: Madrid. Although, again, her ID says another thing and places her entrance into the world about 7,400 kilometers [approximately 4,600 miles] from the Spanish capital, specifically, in Havana, Cuba. Even so, all of her life she spoke with a Cuban accent.
It is known through her own stories that she told while in the nursing home that when she was quite young her family relocated to the Caribbean island. Her father, Nicolás González, was an engineer and was contracted to build railroad tracks there. Her stay in Cuba is documented by an ID card issued by the General Directorate of Sports which falls under the Ministry of Education in Cuba.
This ID card accredits Marta’s name with being a ballet teacher on the island. It is dated May 3, 1968, which is to say, after the Cuban Revolution. But if you pay careful attention to the image, you can see that there is a sticker placed on top of the year. It is possible to think that Marta altered that date for reasons that she brought with her to the grave.
This is not the only misleading paper in terms of dates. In her personal archive consists various diplomas that place her in New York from 1966 to 1978. Here comes the mess. According to a diploma from the Escuela Superior Nicolay Yavorsky of New York that accredits Marta as a prima ballerina (title of excellence in the ballet world), in 1966 she was 19 years-old. That is closer to the age that her National Identification Card states.
But that same institution documents that on June 3, 1978, she was 25 years-old. And a third diploma dated three years later says she is 23… Seeing this, one cannot stop imagining Marta laughing to herself at the poor, unfortunate person who tries to figure out her real age.
Another document that places her in Cuba, supposedly when she was 18 years-old, is a clipping from the magazine Bohemia, the oldest newspaper in Latin America, unfortunately fallen from grace after the communist revolution, explained the journalist Yoani Sánchez in the pages of Huffington Post.
One can read: “Rosamunda, virtuoso of classical dance, who has just received great success in the United States, is an outstanding figure in the world of ballet, a featured choreographer, despite her young age (18 years-old) has staged ten works of her own choreography and librettos, most notable, “tardes vienesas”, “los Gatos del Tío Tom”, “Los Mendigos”, “Presagio”, etc. and “La última Danza”, a ballet which is under contract to be acquired by a European company who will immediately incorporate it into their repertory”.
“White, almost transparent”
As if the story weren’t already a bit messy, here comes another twist. One of her former students assures that at the beginning of the 1970s she was teaching classes in Madrid. “I believe I was with her in ’71”, assures this woman, who prefers not to reveal her identity and that talks to [El Español] from France where she currently lives.
“She was living in Madrid, in the Estrella neighborhood [Retiro district]. She had a dance studio in her house”, explains this source. “When I was a little girl I also knew her mother [Julia Saldaña, according to Marta’s National Identification Card]. The mother was short with slanted eyes. Marta was a large woman for her generation and thus was impressive for her comportment. She was white, almost transparent. Never in my life had I met a woman more white. And alway with a majestic attitude”.
According to this woman’s story, Marta taught classes both in her house and in the school Reinado Corazón de Jesús, still open on Walia Street in Madrid. Until now, the center has not commented on this matter. “She prepared end of the year festivals and was very involved in this school”. Asked about Marta’s age back then, they calculate that she could have been around 40 years-old, but it is difficult to know “because ballerinas don’t typically have marks on their faces”.
When the former student saw the viral video that provoked this investigation, she didn’t doubt it: “I recognized her immediately. I said ‘but if it is her, it is Marta…’. Her arms and hands are the same. That elegance, you know? When I was young she seemed ethereal. When she walked, when she moved. Also she was a woman with a very strong character. She was not hard, she was demanding, which is not the same”.
“I believe that she had a very human side. Looking at the past with adult eyes I think that maybe there was something in her life that was painful and that makes you have a protective attitude or caution with respect to others. I was a young girl, so for me she was like a fairy… an impossible… a dream, she represented a dream“.
The woman on the other end of the telephone explains what could well be the plot of the film “Black Swan”: “The people who dedicate themselves to classical dance are those with a lot of character and sometimes difficult to understand. You don’t have a body for dance, you can have conditions. You have a flexibility, an elegance, a body, an ear, etc. But a body like yours or whoever’s is not created to dance. You have to change it, most of all for classical dance. This makes it so that from a very young age you have to get used to physical pain, an ironclad discipline, a huge competitiveness, and no mercy… all of this can accentuate a certain character”.
Apartment B, First Floor
Aside from the school in Estrella and her collaboration with the other aforementioned school, it is known that Marta had another school on Alfonso XII Street, 66 in Madrid. This is accredited to a brochure taken from her personal archives. “Ballet teatro escuela Cinta de Madrid – the brochure says – the most modern center for training and personal improvement”.
The most veteran neighbors of this building – where everything creaks – don’t remember there having been a dance school in Apartment B on the 1st Floor. The property appears to not have hosted any activity in years. On the door, open for the last time who knows when, there is only a sticker for a security alarm company.
A small window in the upper part of the frame allows one to see the interior of the room. The apartment is totally empty and the walls naked. However, the parquet floor and the generous space does in fact indicate that here there could have been a dance school.
Marta’s trail disappeared for decades until the first witnesses located her in Alicante living with her husband – or perhaps boyfriend, it’s not known if there was a wedding – Raúl Fernández Suárez, a medical surgeon. “Her husband was ill, she was dependent. No one cared for them. Raúl already knew that he was dying and wanted to find a center for her. There was space in Muro de Alcoy”, explains Inmaculada Vilar, the director. In those days, Marta was already sat in a wheelchair. “In that moment the directors were Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada. Marta loved Sister Maria Luisa, the former director, very much”.
Her final years
In September 2014 the former ballerina entered the nursing home that had been her home until her death. To be there, she paid about 60 euros per day. “She was very confused, a significant cognitive impairment. We don’t know exactly if it’s Alzheimer’s. When the confusion set in she didn’t recognize us, she got dizzy, and she became nervous. One time she imagined she was in an academy. She had hallucinations from the disease. Later she had moments when she was more lucid”, explains Inmaculada, in charge of the nursing home since 2015.
“She was very confused. She didn’t have fluid conversations like you and I. She could perfectly not know if she was in Muro, in Alicante, in another place”. There, already widowed, she had an unrequited love: “She was so in love with a man in the home (laughter). She was very coquettish”. The subject in question was “a very temperate man, very handsome. But he didn’t respond to her, he only went along with the joke”.
“One time, about three years ago, Marta was about to die and they called us from the hospital so that we could notify her relatives. Of course, we told them that she had no family, that there was only us. So I told the man: ‘Luis, could you go and say goodbye’. He got on the bus and went. He said to her: ‘Come on, Marta. If you get well we’ll get out of here’. Well he promised her everything”, remembers Inmaculada with a smile.
To everyone’s surprise, Marta would live three more years. The nursing home personnel, her de facto family, joked: “Of course, Luis, it’s that you promised her all this and heaven, too”. Who knows if this promise is what gave her strength to endure. “She will have thought: ‘Well, with what he has promised I’m not going!’. Now you have to follow through, Luis”.
On one occasion, she made her own audition within the nursing home. “She created this story that she was going to build a school there inside. So she was doing the casting and selecting the girls: ‘that one no, she’s very fat’, ‘that one, yes is worth it’, ‘let’s see, lift up your leg’… And like that, she did the casting. We started laughing. It was very funny”.
In June 2019 she received the visit from Música Para Despertar [Wake Up Music], the authors of the viral video that shows the evocative power and the therapeutic power of music, a subject often criticized in educational plans. “It is scientifically proven to be one of the last capabilities that can be lost”, explains Pepe Olmedo, director of Música Para Despertar and in charge of broadcasting the famous video.
Marta died in March of this year, probably oblivious of the storm that was falling around the walls of her nursing home and with memories of a movie-like life. The video that has made her a known figure has made headlines in half of the world and has even inspired spontaneous tributes from other artists.
Ballerina with Alzheimer’s: The Untold Story of Marta Cinta is a translation of Jaime Susanna’s original article: El Español – “La historia no contada de Marta Cinta, la bailarina con alzheimer tras el vídeo viral: su vida de película” Images also from El Español.
Thank you for this article!!!
You are most welcome! We are so glad you enjoy it 🙂
Poplakalam sie. Piekna! Kiedys i teraz. Zycze Jej duzo sil i zdrowia.
Thank you for Marta’s story. She is so beautiful.
Beautiful story of a beautifully talented lady. Thank you!
I agree! And you’re welcome 🙂
Beautiful video and interedting lady. Thank you
Thank you so much for getting to the facts behind that absolutely beautiful video. Rest in peace, Marta. May you dance amongst the stars.
So gifted STILL until her last breath. Ahhhh, to have been able to watch her perform in her prime would have been a precious moment in time.❤️