To Top

Meet Irma Suarez Ruiz of Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in North Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Irma Suarez Ruiz.

Irma, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
How my life as a Spanish dancer began here at NEIU. I was an incoming freshman when I saw Ensemble Español for the first time. It was during the summer; right after my graduation from Senn High School that I came to NEIU with my father to see a performance. To my surprise, this was the most beautiful, and exciting performance I had ever seen, classical, folklore, and flamenco dances that took me to another world. By the end of the performance, I was at the edge of my seat applauding and only wanting to see more. It was then that I decided I wanted to be one of them, a Spanish dancer with Ensemble Español.

As I began my studies here at NEIU, aside from all my basic academic courses, I started taking all the dance classes that I could, including Spanish dance, eventually becoming a Dance Minor. I also participated in the evening community workshops given by Ensemble Español. I had to do it all.

Finally, the day came when a posting announcing auditions for the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Company went up. I was ready, the audition began and just like anyone else I was nervous. The audition ended and I waited anxiously to find out if I was accepted, the results would be posted the following day. As I arrive in NEIU the next day, I immediately go towards the dance studio. As I look for the list of new dancers, apprentices to the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Company, my name was the first one listed, the joy, happiness; excitement that I felt was immense. It was this day that my dream came true.

I have made a career out of dance, Spanish dance to be exact, from company dancer to Soloist, First dancer, Instructor, Associate Artistic Director, and now Artistic Director, 38 years later, I am still here at NEIU loving every moment, and seeing myself in my dancers and students, looking back to how I started my dream, giving back to the community.

Believe in yourself, work hard, have a positive attitude and you will be surprised at how many good things will come your way.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t been a smooth road, many struggles, and sacrifices along the way. Trying to balance work and family has been my greatest challenge. I love my family and want to be there for them always, for my husband, children, and parents. I am a new grandmother now, and I find the need to be with my grandchildren as often as I can, I don’t want to miss anything.

I have a passion for Spanish dance; performing, teaching, directing, choreography and costume design.

As an instructor, I teach four dance courses at Northeastern Illinois University, from morning to mid-afternoon, Monday through Thursday, As artistic director, I follow with office hours for Ensemble Español, that includes: scheduling rehearsals, programming, bookings, meetings, checking costumes, e-mailing dancers till 6:30 pm. at which time our rehearsals begin and go till 10:00 pm. on Mondays and Wednesdays. you can say I’m at the university all day. On Fridays I’m at the university 6:30 -10:30 pm, and on Saturdays 11:00-3:00 pm, with continued rehearsals. I teach an additional community workshop in Spanish dance Tuesday evenings from 7:15-8:15 pm., so, how much time do I spend with my family? Not enough.

My commute is almost an hour to get to work and another to get back home. Which makes sense for me to stay at work, and not go home to have dinner.

Balance and time management is all it takes, sometimes easier said than done.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I am the Artistic Director of Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. I train Spanish dancers, set rehearsals according to what is coming up, as well as, maintain a structure where technique in ballet, castanets, footwork, and combinations across the floor are followed in every rehearsal. I also set new choreographies, cast dancers, design costumes, and do the programming for upcoming events, I also invite guest artists throughout the season from Spain and the U.S. to help train and add choreography works to the company’s repertoire.

Ensemble Español is a non for profit organization, in resident partnership with Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, presenting, promoting and preserving the classical, ballet Español, folkloric and Flamenco dances in both the traditional and contemporary styles on a local, national, and international platform, this alone sets us apart from others, and makes us unique.

The company has established three scholarship endowments at Northeastern allowing Ensemble dancers to continue their university studies. Our motto “Spanish dance your way through college”. The company and center currently serve over 30,000 students with over 40 artists. The company presents over 100 concert programs to include residencies for grade and high school students and families.

As a company, I am most proud of our achievements and continued successes. Proud to be a part of the company’s foundation for generations to take part in now its forty-two years of existence. Proud that we continue to honor and follow a legacy set forth by our Founder Dame Libby Komaiko.

What were you like growing up?
I remember being very shy and timid growing up, but in my shy and quiet way, I loved to dance, it took me to places where any dream could ever take you,

Throughout my elementary years, I participated in only one dance recital, I was in fourth grade, enrolled in an all girl catholic school in Mexico. I never took ballet, but somehow became part of the core to a ballet piece, it was fun.

I also loved gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics to be exact, another opportunity for me to perform, I was in 5th grade then. I remember one day waiting for my class to begin, I saw the most wonderful tumbling exercises happen before my eyes, it wasn’t so much the tumbling, but the personality of the gymnast that caught my attention as she was executing a floor routine. Her smile, expression, and execution went through me like a lightning bolt, it was amazing! she became an inspiration ever since, and with that, I began to understand the importance of how to present myself to an audience.

As an adult, dance has allowed me to overcome the shy and timid ways I grew up with. My father told me once after a performance, you’re like Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hide, off stage you’re very reserved, somewhat shy, but on stage, it’s like you’re someone else.

I consider myself to be an organized person, a bit OCD you might say, at home, at work, and in my personal life, and although I know this annoys some, on the other hand, I know others appreciate it in my field of work and business. I don’t like going on the computer at home, I choose not to have Facebook, I like looking at printed photos in a frame or album, also looking through magazines like HGTV. I enjoy driving out of town, to the North woods with my family, I like action movies, and seeing them with my husband as we chow down on a bucket of popcorn. I love children’s illustrated, and coloring books, My favorite color is blue, and I love Mexican and Puerto Rican food.


  • American Spanish Dance & Music Festival Gala Concerts Ticket Prices from $25-$65
  • Ensemble Español Holiday Concert Ticket prices from $20-$30
  • Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Community Workshop Classes for Children and Adults. Session Price: Children & Students: $75 – Adults $90

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Joe Davis, Dean Paul

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in