Tania Castroverde Moskalenko in the orchestra seats of the Palladium… a world away from her childhood home in Cuba.
… So it is in that spirit that I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld. I have directed the Departments of State and Justice and Health, Education, and Welfare to immediately make all the necessary arrangements to permit those in Cuba who seek freedom to make an orderly entry into the United States of America.
The lesson of our times is sharp and clear in this movement of people from one land to another. Once again, it stamps the mark of failure on a regime when many of its citizens voluntarily choose to leave the land of their birth for a more hopeful home in America. The future holds little hope for any government where the present holds no hope for the people. And so we Americans will welcome these Cuban people. For the tides of history run strong, and in another day they can return to their homeland to find it cleansed of terror and free from fear …._
October 3, 1965 – Lyndon B. Johnson
Imagine a little girl of six playing in the warm sunshine of Cuba – innocent of the troubles surrounding her homeland. At that moment in time for this little girl, freedom was just a word, and America was an unknown world away.
Imagine her parents taking her aside to tell her that they would be leaving early the next day for a new country with a new beginning, and she needed to select just one toy to take with her on this journey. The pretty little girl with big brown eyes had many toys, so the choice was not an easy one for her to make; but in the end, she chose her favorite little dolly. The rest of that day, she watched her parents quietly pack a small amount of clothing for each of them in the limited amount of suitcases allowed. Everything else that had been part of their life must now be left behind. Because she was a child, the uncertainty of their journey would fade into the child-like excitement of going off on a trip. The sun set and then rose as the family went through the security departure area filled with soldiers, families, and other strangers.
The child watched as these soldiers opened each of their suitcases, rifling through the belongings that had been neatly packed by her parents. They were searching for anything that might have value – money, jewelry, gold, china. Anything of added value besides clothing was confiscated.
When all the suitcases had been searched, one of the soldiers looked down at the little girl. He extended his hand, motioning for the surrender of the doll that she was holding so tightly to her chest. Her parents nodded, and she surrendered the doll. In rapid motion, he tore off the doll’s head, arms, and legs. He inspected the doll’s cloth body, looking for pockets that might hold hidden treasures. Finding nothing of the sort, the soldier moved on to the next in line, and the little girl and her family moved forward on a journey that would take them from one country to another. The child’s destiny would now await her in the land of the free.
The little girl in the story is Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, President/CEO of The Center for the Performing Arts, an incredibly positive and dynamic woman who believes that life brings many opportunities – opportunities that may not be seen at first glance, but if acted upon, can change your life forever.
“Cuban history shows that it was a very difficult time for the country and its people. My parents found the courage to leave everything behind with the firm belief to find a better life for us in America. The journey was not easy and the memory of that day is still with me,” she said thoughtfully.
Sitting in her office, one can’t help but notice the pictures on her desk that show the private side of this highly-recognized executive. They are of family. Our conversation touched on many areas of her professional life but eventually led to the discussion of women and how she manages her personal life as she leads a major arts organization such as The Center for the Performing Arts.
“I am the mother of five children, 3 of which are now grown and out on their own, but I do have twins at home. I am often asked by young women and men how I balance my busy professional life with my private life,” she said. “I do believe life is not linear anymore, and I believe you can do it all; you just can’t do it all at the same time.
“I also believe individuals can reinvent themselves at different times in their lives. Oftentimes, we learn to identify ourselves with certain names such as ‘I am a dancer or I am a lawyer,’ but the reality is we always have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. If we are not happy going in one direction, we do have the choice to make a 180 turn with our lives,” she related.
Tania went on to share that her love of music and dance found a connection at the age of 10 when she was invited by a little friend to attend her dance performance at a local dance school. Tania was mesmerized by the lighting, the music, the costumes, and the dying swan in the performance. That afternoon was magical for Tania, and she knew then she wanted to be part of that magical world as dance had indeed entered her heart. Bugging her parents, she began taking dance lessons and as the years went by, she would eventually end up performing in a production company in Miami. She decided to stay in Miami and go to college. It’s interesting to note that while she continued to dance, Tania chose to major in International Relations with an emphasis in Soviet Studies.
Changing Courses …
“Life revolves over time. Life changed for me when I got married and we decided to start a family. I was lucky to be able to stay at home – to be a mother. This was a new course in life for me. I, in essence, decided to stop pursuing any kind of career or vocation by choice. I guess you could say this was perhaps the first of my 180 turns in life. Several years later at the age of 29, when my youngest child was 4, I decided to re-engage my passion by going back to college to renew my connection with dance,” Tania said with reflection. “Times had changed – times that had limited the possibilities for women in so many ways. But then, the opportunity to be a mother and a student was present. I have always loved the quote,Leap and the net will appear. And so I leaped!” Indeed Tania did leap, and the net was there sending her feet first toward an opportunity that would forever change her life.
Pushing Forward With Courage…
Castroverde Moskalenko in the balcony of the Palladium.
Picture Tania as the mature student in one of the most creative times in her life. She shows up for a scheduled class only to have the teacher inform her that the class was canceled for that day. Frustration and a range of disappointed emotions began to whirl in the mind of a very focused student who needed the class.
These thoughts were interrupted by the teacher as she added the message that she would be teaching an audition class by invitation only next Saturday. An invitation to attend this class was extended. Without thought, the invitation was accepted and Tania, the student, went home to the task of rearranging her babysitting schedule for that next Saturday – not an easy thing to do as babysitters were difficult to schedule. “I took a leap without thinking of all the things I would have to do to make it to this unschedule date. It was now my job to make it all work out. That’s the way it always is in life,” Tania said.
Tania, the student, wasn’t thinking about the scholarship aspect that had been mentioned by the teacher as she settled into her seat that next Saturday. She was just happy to have been able to register for the class, be accepted, and find a seat in the crowded classroom. She was given papers to fill out as the class went along. At the end of the two-hour course, she felt that all the juggling to attend had been worth the opportunity to sit in on this class. She handed in her papers and went home to her family.
One week later, her husband called her as she was visiting her parents and told her to call the University right away. She did, and the rest is history. The class with a four-year scholarship degree in Theater and Dance at the University of Memphis had her name on it. She accepted it and made the move to Memphis with her family. It was all because of taking an unexpected leap on an unplanned Saturday class. It was the turning point in her life.
Another transition came years later after an amicable divorce. Her job and her three daughters kept her busy and involved. Her path crossed that of Alexei Moskalenko, an incredible Russian dancer who, like her, had also defected from his native country to seek a better life in America. Their common interests as artists drew them together and, in time, they married. Today, they have added twins – a boy and a girl – to their loving family (Sasha, Mishi, Amanda, Tatiana and Nikolas).
“Alexei had a flourishing dance studio in Memphis when I was at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. When I was offered the position at The Center for Performing Arts, multiple factors had to be considered that were important to us as a couple and a family,” Tania stated. In the end, Alexei told Tania that it was her time and that together they would make this transition. Alexei is, indeed, a much-sought-after dance coach and choregrapher. He has a busy travel schedule which is balanced and works in tandem with Tania’s schedule. Busy couples make it work.
“When my family left Cuba, there were two things the authorities could not take away from my parents: their integrity and their character,” Tania recalled with pride.
The risk Tania’s parents took set the stage in giving their daughter a new life in a country built by courageous and inspiring individuals. They, too, took a “leap” to a new country for the chance of a better life based on opportunity.
It is easy to say that Tania Castroverde Moskalenko is a woman who inspires by leaps and limitless bounds.