Roman Baca’s loving marriage gives room to ‘crazy ideas’
NEW YORK CITY — The other day, Roman Baca saw his wife doing pirouettes in the grocery store, wearing a West Point T-shirt. He knew right then his marriage was in good shape.
It hasn’t always been so tranquil, he admits. He returned from Iraq in 2006 with a jumble of emotions and lingering questions about what he wanted out of life. It led him from Connecticut to Queens, with side trips to Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, New Jersey and Iraq again.
All the while his wife, Lisa Fitzgerald, has been there helping him search for answers.
“It’s a really hard concept, being the one who never went to war,” says Fitzgerald, 27, a ballerina who co-founded the Exit 12 Dance Company with her husband.
“When Roman first came back, I wanted to know everything. What about this? What about that? But no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to truly understand what he went through. That’s the first step to me being OK with it. It’s about getting over myself and keeping our sights set on the future,” she says.
Baca, 38, was a Marine fire team leader of a tank patrol unit in Falluja. Prior to that, he’d been a ballet dancer. It’s proven to be an interesting combination.
Baca has achieved national recognition for his choreography in the past year. His dances pierce the veils of violence that surround war and illuminate the mixture of anger, confusion, duty and loneliness at the core of combat.
Baca recently took a full-time job with The Mission Continues, a national service organization that helps veterans improve their communities through local charitable groups. In addition, he conducts dance workshops and performs in high schools, colleges and even the United States Military Academy at West Point – often with Fitzgerald dancing a few feet away.
“When I suggested starting the dance company and then had one crazy idea after another, instead of writing it off, Lisa pushed me in the direction of those crazy ideas,” Baca says. “I couldn’t have done any of that without her.”
Yet their relationship has been an intricate, delicate dance all its own.
Baca and Fitzgerald met at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts, in Torrington, Conn., when Fitzgerald was an 18-year-old student and Baca was the RA for the boys dormitory. Their romance grew slowly over the course of several years.
He went off to war; she went off to Brooklyn, to dance.
When he came home, they started the dance company. But Fitzgerald noticed that Baca had changed. Gone was the carefree, somewhat immature guy she knew. In his place was an intense, focused man who sometimes got upset by the world around him.
Fitzgerald stuck by him, even as his art veered more and more into meditations on the military life. It was a far cry from Fitzgerald’s original plan to be a classical ballerina.
They married in 2009, on a beautiful September day in Norfolk, Conn. In the months that followed, their schedules, commitments ‑ and occasional tensions ‑ accelerated.
“We were down on the steps of Lincoln Center once, having a mini argument, trying to figure out space and time,” Baca recalls. “Time was wearing on us. Things were getting to us. Lisa said, ‘What happens if we decide this doesn’t work?’ I said I’d probably go back to New Mexico.”
But they held it together. And in the midst of all that, as they hunkered down into their own ballet of bills, laundry and artistic dreams, something amazing happened. Baca struck a pleasing balance between a full-time job helping veterans and an off-hours job doing choreography. This allowed Lisa to stop waitressing and take on a gig teaching dance to kids through a group called Ballet Ambassadors.
“It gives me something that’s my own, and it helps me see the work I do with Roman more clearly,” she says. “When we started our company, I was helping him form his vision. Now I find myself more vested in what we do and I understand how important it is to have a message with your art.”
She and Baca are looking to make their move to New York City permanent. They hope to sell their condominium in Waterbury and find an apartment in Astoria, Queens ‑ where they’re currently subletting a place.
They also have another show in the works. It’s their annual, military-themed version of “The Nutcracker,” which will run in mid-December at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.
Fitzgerald’s sister will be working backstage. Baca’s mom will come in from New Mexico.
“You realize, the world is bigger than just you and what you’ve been through,” Baca says. “You get outside of yourself and everything becomes real again.”