Growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Margarita Martinez fell in love with the cultural pastime of dancing. By age 6 she was taking classes and dreaming of becoming a ballerina. Dance lessons were expensive, however, and when Martinez was a teenager, her parents could no longer afford them. Faced with the prospect of giving up her passion, a 16-year-old Martinez started her own business baking birthday cakes, earning enough money to pay for classes. A year later, she got her first big break when talent scouts from the Cincinnati Ballet Company came to Puerto Rico.
“I was selected to take a class on stage with the Company before their performance,” Martinez recalled. “After that they sent me a letter inviting me to come to the U.S. and continue dancing with them. My first performance with them was Firebird. I was one of the maidens at 17 years old.”
A ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky, Firebird is based on a Russian folktale that tells of a magical glowing bird that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor, and in some ways, dancing became that to Martinez. Over the next 12 years she danced professionally, traveling around the U.S. By 29, Martinez faced the difficult balancing act of a demanding work/travel schedule and raising two, soon to be three, children.
Martinez gave up dancing and became an instructor at the college level, and though she still worked around her art, she felt unfulfilled without dancing. In October 1991, at 34, Martinez tried climbing for the first time.
“It was like dancing on the rocks,” Martinez says. “I knew I found the only thing that could replace my love for dancing.”
Hooked, Martinez immediately spent as much time as possible at the climbing gym in Cincinnati, where she met her climbing partner Rene Keyzer-Andre; by 1992, they were married. The couple spent most weekends at the Red River Gorge, Martinez’s favorite crag, and she soon began considering new career options that would better cater to her newfound sport. The night before her son’s wedding, Martinez serendipitously arrived at a familiar idea.
“That night I casually asked my son who was doing his cake.” “He replied, ‘I thought I could pick one tomorrow’ … on the day of his reception! I immediately went to the store, bought pans and frantically made a cake. Everyone loved it!”
After the wedding, Martinez sought more formal training to step up her skills, and took lessons at the Wilton School in Chicago, and later, with the renowned chef Nicholas Lodge at the International Sugar Art Collection in Atlanta. She started a business, Classic Confection Cakes, now in its eighth year of operation and booming—two cakes per weekend. Martinez’s cakes, usually commissioned for weddings, are ornate and elegant masterpieces. The sugar flowers that Martinez is able to create are just beautiful.
“I love the creativity that goes into each cake and that it’s going to such a special occasion.”
Martinez has now been climbing for 18 years (not including the four-year break she took to start her business), and is always improving. Last year, at age 51, she climbed two 5.13a’s in a day, and also sent her hardest route to date: Dirty Smelly Hippy (5.13b), all at the Red. The next goal, Martinez says, is to move into an RV with her husband, and teach sugar classes wherever climbing takes them.