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MIAMI (Reuters) - Six dancers who defected over the weekend from the famed National Ballet of Cuba appeared in Miami on Tuesday and said they planned to pursue careers in the United States.
"The dancers defected because they need personal freedom and opportunity in their career," said Pedro Pablo Peña, founder of the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, a nonprofit dance organization.
"It's a short career. Here they'll at least get paid more than they do in Cuba," he added.
It was the second major defection of Cuban ballet dancers in the United States in a little more than 12 months, though none are principals or soloists.
Cuba is one of the world’s top producers of ballet talent but dancers are restricted from working abroad and some leave the island frustrated by lack of opportunity, and high paying salaries.
At a press conference in Miami on Tuesday, the six dancers, aged between 21 and 24, said they had considered defecting for some time and had discussed the idea with friends and family.
"I thought about this for months before the tour," said Ariel Soto Cantora, 23. "Each of us decided on our own but didn't come with each other," he added.
For some it was a spur of the moment decision. "I was thinking about it but didn't decide until the last minute," said Monica Gomez Bolaños, 21.
The dancers had been performing in Puerto Rico before abandoning the tour on Sunday and flying to Miami.
A seventh dancer defected but stayed behind with friends in Puerto Rico.
Under the Cuban Adjustment Act Cuban exiles are granted special immigration privileges as well as financial benefits to help them get on their feet.
The Cuban national ballet, known for its classical style and for producing world-class dancers, regularly makes international tours. Its members, especially the principals and soloists, enjoy privileged lives but earn modest salaries of $10 to $30 a month plus bonuses for foreign tours.
Over the years, many of its dancers have defected and enjoyed successful careers abroad, while others have been allowed to leave Cuba on contract to foreign ballet companies.
Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso founded the National Ballet of Cuba in 1948 and, at the age of 92, despite being nearly blind, continues as its artistic director.
Cuba provides free training to thousands of young dancers around the country from the age of 9, with the elite graduating to the National Ballet.
(This story was corrected in first paragraph to six dancers. A seventh defected but stayed in Puerto Rico)
Writing by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney