Seven Cuban Ballet Dancers Defect to the U.S. and Mexico

Seven members of the Cuban National Ballet have defected to the U.S. and Mexico while on tour with their dance company.

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Peter Hapak for TIME

A young dancer from the Cuban National Ballet ties her shoes backstage on May 2011.

Seven members of the Cuban National Ballet have defected to the U.S. and Mexico while on tour with their dance company.

The dancers reportedly traveled to Mexico on March 17 during the beginning of the company’s international tour. It was there that they apparently decided to flee. According to the Miami-based Spanish language newspaper Café Fuerte, six out of the seven members went on to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near Texas, and are now petitioning for political asylum.

(PHOTOS: Backstage with the Cuban National Ballet by Peter Hapak)

Though the incident happened last month, it was only recently acknowledged by the Cuba National Ballet. The defectors, mostly between the ages of 20 and 24, consist of five women and two men.

Annie Ruiz Diaz, a 24-year-old dancer, told Café Fuerte “It’s the toughest decision [that] I’ve ever made, but we’re not thinking about the past, just the future. We decided to seek out a better artistic life and economic well-being for our families.”

The U.S. petitioners are currently based in Miami, which serves as a large hub for the U.S.-Cuban exile community. It is not clear whether Alejandro Méndez, the 20-year old dancer who remained in Mexico, plans to rejoin the group.

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The group points out they were inspired by other defections, with past Cuban ballerinas successfully joining U.S. companies such as the Cincinnati and Boston Ballet.

“You never know if you will see the family we left behind again,” Randy Crespo, one of the members noted. “We wanted to run away together, because we think we can help each other to start a new life.”

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