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Carlos Acosta: Havana is where the heart is

  • Ballet star Carlos Acosta lives in London, but his heart is in Havana
  • "Ballet the opportunity to become something else completely," he says
  • Acosta says Havana inspires him to dance, and so does his audience
  • He says Cubans don't have much "but they give you what they have"

(CNN) -- Carlos Acosta has gone from breakdancing in the backstreets of Havana to principal dancer with the biggest ballet companies in the world. Now based in London, he takes CNN on a tour of the Cuban capital and talks about his enduring love for the city.

CNN: Do you find you are a different person in London and Cuba?

Carlos Acosta: Of course, because they're different environments with different lifestyles.

In London it has always been work related and when I'm there I have a schedule.

When I'm in Havana I can still find friends I grew up with and I can get close to the life that I don't have anymore because of my career, so I'm filled with memories. Also, family is everything and when I'm here in Havana I love to spend time with my family.

CNN: Do you miss Havana?

CA: My heart is here, it's where I belong. This is a place where I'm not a foreigner, because everything around the city belongs to me. When I come back it reminds me where I really come from.

CNN: Is home where the heart is?

CA: I've been living in two lives for a while. It's a great contrast and a great balance between these two magnificent cities. For an artist, London offers you a world of things to discover and it gives you an opportunity to grow. Havana is completely different -- it's the tropics, it's the music, it's the memories. It's home, where all my ancestors are.

Watch Carlos Acosta take CNN on a tour of Havana.

I always miss Havana when I'm away. It's chaotic, and I love that. I love seeing people with real struggle, people who have nothing, who give you everything. Even the contrast of the magnificent architecture, run-down by time and unkempt, is very romantic. It's a romantic city with lots of memories.

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CNN: Have you had that struggle in your career?

CA:I think with the arts in general there are a lot of things you have to give up in order to accommodate your career and you also need tremendous focus and determination.

I found that ballet was my best friend. It was everything I had, the opportunity to become something else completely and to be fulfilled. It took me a while to understand that and once I did, there was no turning back; I was determined to be the best I could. Because of ballet I have been able to give my family a better life and that makes me very happy.

See Carlos Acosta's Havana

CNN: Does coming back to Havana inspire you?

CA: Havana inspires me to dance, and so does my audience. Whenever someone comes to see me I understand that they have many other choices but they chose to come and see a show that I'm part of, and that's great.

Suddenly you forget about your pain and you forget about the bitter-sweetness of this art. That is also an inspiration and at the end of the day, when you finish a show and you go through the stage door and you find all these people with their faces filled with emotion, it's like a religion.

CNN: Dance brings out a lot of emotion?

CA: Sometimes you think your performance is not good enough. You get very upset because you miss something or you don't feel quite there that night. But at the end of the show you see all these people and some are crying -- they are still there with you and it's magical.

When I find people that express how much my art makes them feel, this is priceless. You can't buy that with money, you can achieve that only with art. You really touch people -- once you do that it lives on forever.

CNN: What are your hopes for Havana?

CA: I hope Havana will still preserve the authenticity that it has but I also understand that many things need to change. I understand a lot of things will change and hopefully for good.

I'm really looking forward to the Royal Ballet coming here for the first time, which is a dream come true. I always dreamed that I could share my career and my art with all these people that grew up with me.

CNN: The heart of Havana lives on although there are economic problems?

CA: The beauty of Cuba lies in its people. Stronger and far beyond landscapes and the sea is the spirit of the people. They are very humble -- they don't have much, but they give you what they have and this is what we have to preserve. When we lose that, we lose ourselves.

CNN: If you had to describe Havana as a person or a thing, what would it be?

CA: I think Havana is life. People struggle but they're still alive. The history is still alive, all the symbols that shaped the country are still here. So to me that's what Havana is -- it's life.