Cervilio Miguel Amador never quite fit the image of a principal dancer. He's short. He's tough. Quite honestly, he looks more like a hunky longshoreman than a prince.

But don't bother debating that with anyone who has seen him perform. Amador is, arguably, the most dazzling and memorable male dancer in the Cincinnati Ballet's 49-year history.

Audience members, female and male, adore him. And it's obvious that he adores them. The moment he walks onto the stage, it's the beginning of a palpable love affair. He's a man's man, athletic and fiery. He has first-rate technical chops, too. Balletomanes are drawn to him as much as newcomers. And, dare we say it, women in the audience just love ogling him.

There is a moment near the end of The Nutcracker where the Snow King and Queen complete a short duet. She walks off the stage. And the King "” that's Amador "” moves to the front corner of the stage, then turns and walks to the back.

He's wearing white tights. And ... well, you get the picture. Listen carefully and you can hear a distinctly female buzz. This has nothing to do with ballet. Or technique. Or much of anything else except that there's a man in exquisite physical shape strutting in front of a thousand or so admiring women.

Aware and Flattered

Does Amador get what's going on? He smiles and blushes slightly. He's searching for something to say. Anything. But he can't find it. For those who know Amador, blushing and silence are nearly unknown states. At 29, he's confident to the edge of cocky.

And silence? By his own admission, this is a man who loves to talk.

Finally, he comes up with something.

"I am aware of it, yes," he says, measuring his words very carefully. "I'm flattered by it. But ... let's just say that it helps me to keep myself in shape."

He is, to be sure, a babe magnet. In the course of nearly two hours in a downtown's coffeeshop, close to three dozen women "” and more than a few men "” cast lingering glances his way.

But adoration isn't what brought Amador to Cincinnati. He had that in Cuba.

In Search of Freedom

He came here in search of freedom.

Most Americans might only think about freedom on the Fourth of July. But for Amador, it is a treasure he was willing to leave family, friends and homeland to pursue.

If he had stayed in Cuba, he was guaranteed a job for life. As a member of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, he commanded enormous respect.

But that wasn't enough. When he and then-girlfriend Gema Diaz, now a senior soloist with the Cincinnati Ballet, fled from a company tour in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2003, he was leaving it behind.

Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Morgan read about their defection. Within days, she had contacted the couple and offered them plane tickets for an audition.

It would be a year before Diaz joined the company. But for Amador and Adiarys Almeida Santana, who defected a week later, the decision was almost immediate.

"I thought their classroom work was OK," recalls Morgan. "But when they did the Don Quixote pas de deux and Flames of Paris ..." Morgan isn't sure how to describe the power of their informal studio performance. "I hired them right away. I don't think they knew how to say hello' or my name is so-and-so.' We were doing charades the whole time. But we did manage to agree on contracts."

Defecting was never about the money, though. Or stature. In the United States, dancers work incredibly hard and earn remarkably little of either one. Amador knew that the U.S. doesn't offer million-dollar signing bonuses to ballet dancers the way it does to Cuban baseball stars.

But in the U.S., he had the freedom to vote, the freedom to dance contemporary works. No longer would he be limited to dancing classics that were more than a century old. Now he would be able to participate in the evolution of ballet rather than merely observe it from a distance.

"My life is so much bigger now," says Amador. "I look back to when I was in Cuba and I never would have imagined that my life would be like this. Ever. You know, my dreams in Cuba were nothing compared to the way I actually live. They were so far below this.

"I never imagined that I would own a house. Or a car. I never would have imagined I would have an American girlfriend. Or work with choreographers from all around the world. I never imagined I would speak English."

He is a U.S. citizen now. He owns a condo in Covington and a house in Mount Washington. He drives a BMW. He performs all over the country and at international galas. And he has immersed himself in every aspect of American culture. He goes to the symphony and opera. He dances at salsa clubs. He goes to galleries, restaurants and Reds games.

All About Family

Most of all, he loves Cincinnati.

"It's not a small city. It's not a huge city. And I like that. I like it that it has the feel of community. I love all the sports we have here. I love how people feel so strongly about the arts. I love how each season is so different. I hope that I will spend the rest of my life here."

If you had asked about his life two years ago, though, the answers would have been quite different.

"I made my decision that I was going to leave," he says. He pursued other companies and had been offered a job in a bigger city. He won't say which one. "It was really nothing to do with Cincinnati Ballet, because I've always been treated very well by the company and by Victoria. And I love the audience here."

It was, he says, about his "hunger."

"I always want more," he says. "I get something and then I want something more. I never want to stop. I almost felt like I did everything I could here. I thought I needed something else, I needed more."

But he changed his mind.

The decision wasn't about dance, though. It was about family.

Instead of spending the rest of his life scrambling to find a few weeks to visit his parents and sisters in Cuba, he decided he would try to bring them here. Once he made that decision, everything seemed to change.

"Cincinnati feels like home now. I never really had that before. I've been in Cincinnati longer than I've been anywhere."

His father, a math teacher, is already here. His mother, a Spanish teacher, and his older sister, a guitarist, will arrive sometime this year. Another sister, a violinist, will come with her husband and 8-year-old daughter as well.

"I am so proud of being born in Cuba and all the things that Cuba taught me," says Amador. "Cuba made me strong. But I am also so proud of being here and all the things that I have learned ... This is my city. This is my home. This is my country."