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Soto, Jock (b, 1965)    
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Half Navajo Indian and half Puerto Rican, Jock Soto is one of the most influential ballet dancers of his time. He has been instrumental in shaping the role and identity of the contemporary male American dancer through his work with the celebrated New York City Ballet.

More than 100 ballets have been choreographed especially for Soto. His extensive repertory at New York City Ballet included featured roles in many works by the legendary George Balanchine. He also inspired the creation of roles in numerous new ballets by such dance-world luminaries as Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Richard Tanner, and Christopher Wheeldon.

In a profile for Playbill Arts, Soto is described as "strikingly handsome and solidly built with broad shoulders, speed-skater thighs, and beautiful hands as sensitive and elegant as a concert pianist's. His unequalled gift for partnering, enhanced by his impeccable musicality, athleticism, and a willingness to try anything, inspires and enables choreographers to stretch and refine what is possible. He is the catalyst that has elevated the art of the pas de deux to new heights."

Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet, noted that Soto "opened up a whole new world of possibilities for choreographers--myself included--to go where no one had gone before. This guy can do anything. He has no limits."

Throughout the 1980s Soto was a regular performer at AIDS benefits, but remarkably never came out in the gay press. He claims that he simply was not asked, and adds, "I think everybody just knew."

After an acclaimed 24-year career, Soto retired from ballet in 2005. Playing off of George Balanchine's famous pronouncement, "Ballet is woman," the New York Times, on the eve of his retirement exclaimed: "Ballet is a man called Jock."

Jock Soto was born on a Navajo Indian reservation in Gallup, New Mexico in 1965 to a Puerto Rican father, Joseph, known in the family as "Papa Joe," and a Navajo mother, Josephine, affectionately known as "Mama Jo."

One of Soto's earliest recollections is of his mother teaching him intricate Navajo hoop dancing.

"I am three and she is immortal--as big and beautiful and bright as the sun in the sky," Soto recalled. "We are dressed in special dancing clothes that she has made for us. I have little beaded moccasins and a headband of wiry horsehair; my velvet loincloth and matching fringed vest with sparkling sequins are a pretty purple. We are carrying smooth circles that never start and never end, beautiful wooden loops . . . made by my grandfather."

His family relocated to Phoenix, Arizona when Soto was four years old.

At the age of six, Soto became captivated by a televised performance of the renowned dancer Edward Villella on the Ed Sullivan Show dancing in the "Rubies" section of George Balanchine's ballet Jewels. Subsequently, Soto begged his parents to let him take dance lessons. They eventually enrolled him in the local Ballet Arizona, a school run by Kelly and Isabel Brown, alumni of the American Ballet Theatre, based in New York City and recognized as one of the world's leading classical ballet companies.

In an interview given later in his career, Soto reminisced about his father taking him to his first ballet class. "My mother told him he had to buy me ballet slippers and tights, and I had a little T-shirt or something. I took them out of the little bag, I was changing in the backseat, and he had bought me blue fishnets! He sort of didn't look at the package. I was like, Oh God, what am I going to do with these? But I had to wear something! I think I probably put shorts over them."

When schoolmates learned of Soto's dance lessons, they teased him mercilessly, calling him "Ballet-Sissy" and "Gay Boy."

As a result, he made friends with the only African-American girl at his school, who was also getting picked on by classmates, and another boy who was unpopular. Together, the three hung out and tried to protect one another.

Soto found acceptance and encouragement, however, in his dance classes and his instructors at Ballet Arizona were immediately impressed with his natural talents and abilities. They encouraged him to consider moving to New York to pursue a serious career in dance.

When he was 11, Soto spent a summer at the School of the American Ballet, one of the most famous classical ballet schools in the world and the associate school of the New York City Ballet. Two years later, he received a full-paid scholarship to the school.

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