Martin and her friends first took a bus to Cordoba, and then to Laredo, where they crossed a bridge on foot into Texas.
As they crossed, they walked in silence, fearing their Cuban accents might be a giveaway to a thief looking to steal their passports. Cubans who arrive in the U.S. are generally allowed to stay under the "Wet-foot, Dry-foot" policy, while those stopped at sea are usually returned home. Mexicans and other Latino immigrants do not receive the same treatment; Most caught at the border are returned to Mexico.
Immigration authorities questioned the dancers for an hour "about everything," Martin said.
When they were allowed to enter the U.S., they embraced and were received by a relative of Martin's friend. They took a van to Miami, home to America's largest Cuban community.
A friend put them in touch with Pena, the founder of the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami and a former ballet dancer. Pena started the company six years ago, more than two decades after fleeing Cuba during the Mariel exodus of 1980, in which more than 100,000 Cubans were permitted to leave by boat amid rising economic and social tensions on the island. Pena saw the need for a company to help recently defected Cuban dancers stay on point until they landed a contract.
He bought and renovated a deteriorated but historic house along the Miami River. The ballerinas stay in small rooms on the third floor named after famous Cuban artists. On the second floor are practice rooms with pianos and ballet barres.
In May, they performed at the Fillmore Miami to mixed reviews.
"Cuban defectors show promise in debut," read the headline in The Miami Herald. The review said three of the dancers had "excellent prospects," while the other three were "less than exceptional."
One of the dancers, Edward Gonzalez, will perform next season with the Sarasota Ballet. The others have been practicing, giving classes and discovering life in America. On their Facebook pages, they've shared photos standing next to a U.S. flag, shopping at a Ross clothes store and hugging each other.
Martin and her friend are amazed at how many foods come canned and can be easily heated up in a microwave.
"It's incredible. We don't have to do anything," Martin said.
Miami, as Gonzalez put it, is like "a developed Cuba." He's looking forward to going to Sarasota, about 230 miles northwest of Miami.
"That's really the U.S.," he said, speaking in Spanish. "There I'm going to have to learn English."