From Paraguay to the Boston Ballet and back: a soloist prepares for life after dancing

Diana Ojeda has studied ballet in Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and across the United States. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Diana De Ojeda started taking ballet when she was a toddler in Asunción, Paraguay. She accompanied her aunt to and from her cousin’s ballet lessons. One day, she, 3 years old at the time, asked if she could join.

“And I never left,” she said, with a wide smile.

It’s hardly a stretch to say the ballet world is better for it. De Ojeda studied ballet in Paraguay, as well as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and across the United States. She’s currently second soloist in the Boston Ballet and was named one of El Mundo’s “30 Under 30,” as one of the most influential Latino leaders in Boston.

But De Ojeda is no longer under 30. She’s 32. And, she said, most professional ballet dancers are considered past their prime by their 40s. So, she started considering new ways to express her artistry and her love for Latin America. A first-of-its-kind partnership between the Boston Ballet and Northeastern that helps professional ballet dancers earn college degrees and to prepare them for careers after dancing provided the answer.

Now, she’s launching Apartment No. 3, a home décor company dedicated to selling the handmade crafts native to Paraguay.

“Northeastern gave me the tools to be able to start my own company,” De Ojeda said. “The experience gave me the confidence to do it.”

Diana Ojeda graduated from the College of Professional Studies in 2018 and launched a home décor company dedicated to selling handmade crafts native to Paraguay. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Creating ‘Diana Albrecht’

De Ojeda’s stage name, Diana Albrecht, is a tribute to her mother as well as a nod to one of the characters in the romantic ballet Giselle.

Her mother, Isabel Aguilera-Albrecht De Ojeda, would twist her hair into buns for performances and cook her nutritious meals before competitions.

When she was 16, De Ojeda was invited to dance with the Companhia Jovem do Rio de Janeiro, a ballet company in Rio de Janeiro. De Ojeda’s mother joined her for the two years she was there. The two lived together, miles from home, while De Ojeda took the first steps in her professional ballet career.  

“It was hard to be so far from our family,” De Ojeda said. “Plus, you have to remember this was 16 years ago, when everyone didn’t have cellphones and could talk to each other all the time. I don’t know what I would’ve done without my mother.”

Aguilera-Albrecht De Ojeda was diagnosed with cancer while the two were in Brazil. She had surgery, recovered, and was well until 2013, when it returned. She was given six months to live, De Ojeda said, but defied the odds for four years. She died in October 2017.

“I think every day of everything she taught me,” De Ojeda said. “She gave everything for us, and I learned how to be strong because of her.”

De Ojeda paused for a moment, then continued. “She lived each day fully; she was so colorful. I feel that she’s pushing me now, to pursue my true mission and to listen to my heart.”

Paving the way for Paraguayan dancers

In the early 2000s, De Ojeda made the decision to pursue ballet in the United States.

She applied to several companies and finally heard back from the organizers of a ballet competition in New York City. She trained intensely during the two weeks before the competition, then flew to New York without knowing a lick of English and placed in the top 12 out of 1,500 competitors.

She parlayed her success into training with the San Francisco Ballet School and, soon, a position in the Washington Ballet Company.

In 2011, she auditioned for and secured a spot in the Boston Ballet, one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Four years later, she was promoted to the company’s second soloist. She has performed in notable productions such as Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, among dozens of others.

Her tenacity and success in U.S. ballet has opened up doors for other Paraguayan girls dreaming of being ballet dancers, De Ojeda said. Opportunities and scholarships for ballet dancers from Paraguay have increased since she was looking for a foot in the door as a determined teenager.

The practice and pursuit of ballet demands near total dedication. De Ojeda has been dancing for 29 years and dancing professionally for 16. She rehearses for eight to 10 hours a day, and when she’s not in the studio, she’s learning choreography, building her strength and balance, and somewhere in there, sleeping and eating.

“I love ballet, but it’s stressful,” she said.

Diana Ojeda performs in the dance room in the Curry Student Center. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Welcome to Apartment No. 3

De Ojeda’s home décor store, still in its infancy, will offer traditional artisanal tapestries and weavings that are native to each town in Paraguay. The art of making them has been passed down through generations for hundreds of years, De Ojeda said, and she wants to bring the beauty and craftsmanship to the United States.

“I think artists have a unique way of looking at the world, and this is my passion. I want the world to see the beauty of Paraguay,” she said.

At Northeastern, De Ojeda both received a Compass Award and was named to the Huntington 100, two honors that recognize her dedication to leadership and scholarship. 

“I loved the challenge and the mental and physical effort it took to do both,” she said. De Ojeda will graduate in August from the College of Professional Studies with a degree in marketing. 

Starting the company is another new challenge, and one that she’s eager to tackle, especially with the unwavering support of her family, she said.

You can see signs of that support everywhere.

Down to the company logo, a spiral design, which is based on traditional earrings De Ojeda’s mother loved to wear.