Lucila Munaretto left her hometown of Oberá, Misiones at the age of seven in order to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Two months ago, she was left in critical condition after colliding with a vehicle while rollerblading in Canada. Now out of hospital and recovering, she spoke with The Indy about about her love of dancing, the support she’s received, and the challenges ahead.
It happened in an instant.
Twenty-year-old ballet dancer Lucila Munaretto was rollerblading down a steep hill when she collided with a van on 13th August.
She doesn’t remember it, doesn’t remember the moment when her lithe dancer’s body slammed into the metal. “I tried so hard, but I can’t,” she says from her host family’s home in Vancouver. “I feel like there was an eraser in my head.”
Doctors put Munaretto in a medically induced coma while her body tried to recover from her injuries. They were extensive: a broken jaw, broken teeth, a broken wrist, a broken pelvis, a broken wrist. She also suffered a brain injury and her spine had to be stabilised.
When she woke up from the coma, she was in a hospital bed, connected to tubes and wires and, for the first time in her life, unable to dance.
“Take dance away from me and it’s the worst thing you can do to me,” she says.
Born to a family of little means in Argentina, Munaretto always knew she wanted to be a dancer. Her family was willing to do whatever it took to help her achieve this dream.
Oberá, a town with of 66,000 in the province of Misiones didn’t offer the opportunities of bigger cities.
Life there wasn’t easy, recalls Munaretto, but she says she had a happy childhood. “[My mother] was always trying to get something better than what we had… She said even when I was a year old I would watch people dance and try to copy them.”
“She was always a dedicated and perseverant girl, very affectionate and giving to others,” recalls Munaretto’s mother, Alicia Pekala.
When Munaretto was seven years old, her parents and three siblings packed up and headed to Brazil where she hoped to get a scholarship to dance at the Bolshoi Theatre School in Joinville.
The prestigious school, affiliated with the world renowned Bolshoi in Russia, is a rare place in Latin America that accepts students free of charge into an eight-year programme to teach everything from ballet, to gymnastics, to piano. At times, the small school of around 350 students has as many as 40 people auditioning for one position.
The first time Munaretto auditioned she was rejected. Undeterred, she tried a second time, and was rejected again. But this only strengthened her resolve.
“The first thing they told me was that I was too young and the second time they said I wasn’t flexible enough and I’ll hurt myself. But the third time they let me in,” laughs Munaretto.
She was ten when she was finally accepted into the school. “Everything was new,” she remembers, adding she was very shy at the time. “But you get used to it.”
It was while she studied at the Bolshoi that Patricia Stavis, a photographer working on a story for the National Geographic, met the young dancer five years ago.
“Lucila immediately popped in the pictures because she is delicate and strong at the same time, beautiful, graceful and a perfectionist,” says 37-year-old Stavis.
During the course of the assignment, Stavis spent a lot of time with the dancers and visited Munaretto’s family. “That house was different because they have a lot of love! You could feel that. The family went to Joinville because the ballet, the choice of Lucila.”
It was in her seventh year at Bolshoi that Munaretto got her second big break. In 2012, at the age of 16, she was scouted by the Artistic Director at Coastal City Ballet, a dance company in Vancouver, Canada.
She jumped at the opportunity. Though her parents were worried about her and would miss her, Munaretto was firm. “I was like, but it’s my chance!” she says.
Rehearsal director Katie Bois remembers when Munaretto first arrived in Vancouver. “To me, Lucila’s personality stood out right away. She is a genuinely kind individual and was so eager to learn,” she said in an email. “As a dancer she was technically the same as many other dancers her age but she has an extra quality that is hard to find. When she moves, you can see the love of dance pouring out of her and audience members all over are drawn to her instantly.”
The transition was difficult. Now away from her family, Munaretto found herself struggling to adjust to her new life. “I don’t think it was scary at first, but it was more like learning everything again,” she describes. “I would miss my family.”
“She was young and she missed home when she first arrived in Canada but that never stopped her,” said Bois. “She was always working hard in class and rehearsals, trying to learn as much as possible. It’s that determination that helped her then and I believe what is also helping her now.”
Munaretto excelled at Coastal City Ballet as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel and Drizella, the ugly stepsister in Cinderella.
“Many dancers don’t realise how important acting is for ballet but when you perform a story ballet, you have to tell a story and that means playing a role,” said Bois. “Lucila is exceptional at creating the roles that she has been cast to dance.”
Recovering in North Vancouver, Munaretto is optimistic about what the future holds for her.
“I started to remember probably ten days after I woke up, and when I looked to the side I saw my mum and that made me feel comfortable and full and I started to smile at her.”
Munaretto’s daily routine has changed dramatically from the endless practices and rehearsals. Out of the hospital, she now goes to physiotherapy every weekday for two hours to help heal her body.
“After five years I saw this,” said Stavis, referring to a Facebook post about Munaretto’s accident. “I [started] to cry immediately. Several times. I couldn’t believe the accident.”
Her hospital costs are covered by her insurance, but rehabilitation and travel costs for her family to visit her aren’t. Her friends, like Stavis, helped to create a GoFundMe crowdsource page to cover them.
“I don’t feel pain all the time,” said Munaretto. She can walk now, with crutches, and with small steps she hopes to soon be back to dancing.
She’s grateful to those who have helped her with her recovery and who have supported her financially and emotionally through her journey.
“I just need to thank everyone that helped me,” she said. “Genuinely, they have given me a lot of help and strength.”
She doesn’t know when she’ll be able to dance as she did before her accident, but said it will happen when she feels strong enough, she said.
She pops into the ballet studio as often as she can and her dream is to one day be paid to dance.
“I just want to be able to go back to a company that pays me to dance… to have it as a job,” she said. “Whatever takes me, I’ll go.”