Recognized as the greatest Spanish male dancer of his generation and an even greater choreographer, Antonio Gades died of cancer in Madrid on July 20. He was 67.

Gades’ father, a building worker and communist, left home when Antonio was a baby to fight fascism on the Madrid front in the Spanish Civil War. After the war, the family reunited in Madrid, where Antonio had to leave school at 11 to become a messenger.

Later, dancing in a bar for a few pesetas, he was seen by Pilar Lopez, who ran Spain’s leading dance company. Within a year, at 16, Gades was the lead dancer in her company.

In the 1960s Gades escaped Franco’s Spain and studied classical ballet in Rome and became leading dancer at La Scala in Milan. In 1969 he formed his own ballet company in Paris.

In 1975 he dissolved his company in protest against the dictatorship, and only returned to dancing in Cuba two years later at the urging of Alicia Alonso. From 1959 until his death, Gades was an outspoken supporter of the Cuban revolution. His ashes will be scattered in Cuba.

– Excerpted from The Guardian