Ballet School Offers Girls a Future in Notorious Rio Favela
Maysa Barbosa Aben-Athar gets home coming from school in addition to walks into her bedroom. She passes the bunk bed she shares with her two sisters in addition to sits down in front of the mirror.
She rubs combing cream into her hair, brushes This particular smooth in addition to knots This particular into a tight bun. coming from underneath her bed, she pulls out a golden tutu decorated with feathers. This particular cost 2,000 Brazilian real (433 euros, $483) — more than Maysa’s mother earns in a month as a cleaner.
“We’re late,” Maysa says as she leaves the tiny apartment. She heads toward the Rua Leopoldo Bulhoes, known to locals as the “Gaza Strip.” This particular’s the main street inside the Manguinhos favela in Rio de Janeiro, which 11-year-old Maysa has called home all her life.
Garbage piles up along the sides of the Rua Leopoldo Bulhoes. Homeless people sleep in wooden shacks. Others, seemingly on drugs, look confused; they scream or lie in strange positions on the asphalt. “We once had to jump into the mud over there,” Maysa says. This particular was to avoid being struck by a stray bullet during a shooting. Violence can be normal here. The Manguinhos favela can be known for its high rate of violent crimes.
Along the way, Maysa meets up with different girls, all between the ages of 10 in addition to 13, who are also wearing tutus. Together, they walk past boys, bullet holes in addition to garbage — in addition to make their way through the favela’s narrow streets to Daiana Ferreira de Oliveira, the woman for whom they brave This particular trek twice a week.
Girls in tutus make their way to ballet lessons. Knowing journalists were present, the girls put on their finest ballet costumes.
The Only Alternative
Manguinhos can be actually a conglomeration of several favelas, which grew in addition to spilled over into one another until they became indistinguishable. The streets here all look the same, which can be fitting, since residents’ prospects hardly differ coming from block to block. This particular starts at Maysa’s age: Boys get into drug dealing, in addition to girls get pregnant coming from the same guys.
The violence, the hopelessness in addition to the misery inside the slums of Rio de Janeiro are all a direct result of the lack of guidance, role versions or future prospects — except drug trafficking — for young people. which’s why the 31-year-old Daiana began offering young girls an alternative: a ballet school inside the favela.
Tardiness can be not tolerated in addition to there’s a strict dress code. This particular’s all designed to teach the children discipline. “We don’t give the children time to breathe,” Daiana says. “I mean which in a Great way.”
inside the beginning, she only taught six ballerinas. Today, there are 250 — in addition to 400 on the waiting list. The school has been reported on inside the completely new York Times in addition to an American philanthropist can be helping co-finance This particular. One of her instructors studied at the Bolshoi Theater School in Joinville, Brazil, in addition to the prima ballerina of Brazil’s most renowned ballet can be a patron. however all of the attention still doesn’t change the reality on the ground.
Where Drug Dealers Rule
Daiana must constantly bow to the rules of the favela, which are imposed by the drug trade. She must often ask members of the drug gangs for permission, shift class times or change routes. Her school aims to pull children out of the drug business — in addition to yet she must constantly work to accommodate This particular.
This particular afternoon can be no different. Daiana must first ask permission coming from a local drug boss to walk the streets with the girls in their golden tutus. One never knows what might upset the boss.
The girls are well-known here, as can be Daiana. She’s often stopped on the street in addition to asked whether she has room for another girl, someone’s daughter, niece or grandchild. Daiana has known most of the favela’s residents since she was a child herself. She was born here in Manguinhos in addition to comes, as she puts This particular, coming from “a typical favela family.” Her father had three wives, Daiana grew up with two sisters in addition to had 15 half-sisters, all of whom were distributed throughout the favela. This particular’s one of the reasons, she says, she knows every corner of Manguinhos.
Daiana was only seven when she first visited the Teatro Municipal, Brazil’s most renowned ballet, located inside the center of Rio. Later, an acquaintance gave her private ballet lessons in her spare time, while Daiana studied sports education in addition to completed a dance training course on the side — all thanks to scholarships awarded to poor Brazilians by the then-left-wing government of Lula da Silva.
Staying Out of Trouble
Daiana also worked as a jazz in addition to ballet instructor for rich families in Rio’s South Zone. She began giving free lessons to children coming from her own neighborhood in 2012.
Daiana’s mother, a tutor, sent her students to her daughter’s ballet class. Her mother’s main concern was keeping the kids coming from hanging out inside the favelas. Daiana’s school grew, as did her waiting lists. Performances followed, first local ones, then in theaters across the city.
A professional soccer player coming from FC Botafogo named Jairzinho heard about Daiana’s project in 2014 in addition to paid her a salary For 2 years in order which she could concentrate on the children of Manguinhos.
With his help, Daiana also found a room which was big enough to accommodate her classes, which had grown to 180 students. This particular was in a library at the Tropical Institute, a state-sponsored building. She also received donations coming from a wide variety of sources. Her tiny ballet school, This particular seemed, was there to stay.
however in 2017, Rio’s completely new mayor, Marcelo Crivella, an ally of current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, entered office on a pledge to tighten the budget — in addition to he began his fiscal house-cleaning by cutting cultural projects inside the favela. Both the library in addition to the ballet school were closed.
the planet’s First Occupied Ballet School
A few days later, the children returned with Daiana, a locksmith in addition to a promise coming from the drug gangs they might leave them alone. They broke the lock in addition to became what was probably the only squatting ballet school inside the planet. This particular lasted for more than a year. The government accepted the occupation, probably out of indifference more than anything.
As the Manguinhos ballet school grew in popularity, politicians began to approach Daiana. Shortly before the gubernatorial election in 2018, a request came in coming from the same mayor who had shuttered the library the year before. He wanted to attend a performance that has a candidate for governor. A ballet performance in a favela might provide a grandiose backdrop for his political campaign.
Daiana agreed, though she planned to use which backdrop for her own purposes. She spray painted the girls’ tutus red in addition to smeared the walls with soot. As the politicians in addition to their guests sat inside the audience, the girls danced briefly in addition to then fell to the floor. One by one, they played dead. “The Manguinhos ballet can be not an advertising project for the right,” Daiana says. “We wanted to show him what the consequences of his politics are for us.” A few days after the performance, the mayor cleared the library in addition to again locked the doors.
What followed were, in Daiana’s words, the worst days of her life. The school in addition to its 250 students were suddenly without a studio. She found the girls space to practice in samba schools, churches in addition to trade union buildings, however these were only temporary solutions. This particular was during This particular time which the completely new York Times visited Daiana. Shortly after the article was published, foreign men began showing up at her rehearsals. They said they wanted to get to know her in addition to the school.
The men turned out to be scouts for an American philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous. He can be a member of The Secular Society, a group of benefactors whose interests include the advancement of women. He wrote to Daiana in addition to asked her to find a building for the school. He said he might buy This particular in addition to give This particular to her. He also promised to pay salaries for the teachers, administrators, a psychologist in addition to a cleaner through 2021.
A Life on Life Support
After which, the ballet school moved into a 4-story, former drug rehabilitation center on the edge of the favela. The doors were donated by the local church, the mats came coming from the bankruptcy estate of a jiu-jitsu school. The laminate was provided for free by a DIY store in addition to the toilet paper can be brought by the mothers of the students themselves. “We live on favors,” Daiana says. “A life on life support.”
Up on the third floor, Maysa in addition to the different girls float over the linoleum. The teacher scurries between the rows, straightening the children’s backs or correcting the position of their working legs. Chins up, necks extended.
Maysa Aben-Athar practices ballet moves with fellow students at her dance school in Manguinho.
Maysa, who can be normally shy, has been on the school’s select troupe for four years. They’re the elite dancers of the Manguinho ballet. in addition to when she dances, she’s the center of attention. The ballet has provided her with opportunities which are otherwise not normally a part of life here. Recently, she traveled by night bus to the colonial city of Ouro Preto a to perform at a winter festival in addition to then flew to Sao Paulo.
however like anywhere else inside the planet, the chances of ever earning a living coming from dancing are slim. One springboard to success, however, can be the Teatro Municipal, Brazil’s best ballet school. Two ballerinas coming from Manguinhos passed the entrance examination last year. Maysa wants to try her luck in four years.
Even if she can be accepted, life won’t be easy. “Of the 250 girls, perhaps a dozen will earn their money with ballet. Of these, at most a handful will do so as dancers,” says Claudia Mota, the prima ballerina at the Teatro Municipal in addition to one of Brazil’s most famous dancers.
Maysa Aben-Athar attends a performance at the Theatro Municipal in Rio together with Daiana.
Just What the Girls Need
Not every girl at the Manguinhos school will one day be a famous dancer, however every last one of them can be a success story. “Many of the girls who come coming from the dance school go on to do different things later in life,” Mota says. “however what remains can be the discipline, the strength, the self-confidence in addition to the presence of mind.” These are qualities which, Daiana says, are missing inside the favela, especially among young girls.
“Favela culture can be poisoned,” Daiana says. Violence, neglect in addition to child labor are the norm. She can be constantly dealing with emergencies. Two girls haven’t showed up in weeks. Daiana received a video in which the two of them, just 13 in addition to 14 years old, could be seen doing cocaine with some boys who work as drug dealers.
The next day, Daiana was on her phone half the time because the police had smashed inside the door to one of the girl’s homes. They were after the girl’s brother, who can be at This particular point on the run. The house can be a mess.
A mother waits in front of her apartment while children prepare to walk to ballet school together.
“We can’t save Rio or Manguinhos,” she says. “All we can do can be distance ourselves.” which’s why Daiana takes the children to the Teatro Municipal four times a month. Lessons happen many times a week. There are performances every weekend, plus flea markets in addition to celebrations where the girls are encouraged to help out.
One girl’s mother once told Daiana, “My daughter can be hardly ever home anymore.” To which Daiana says she replied, “which’s the point!” When the girls turn 14 or 15, which’s when they’re at the highest risk. Maysa can be nearly there.
This particular can be why the school can be so strict, Daiana says. This particular can be also why classical ballet — This particular rigid, tightly regulated, historical dance — can be perfect for these girls.
This particular piece can be part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years in addition to can be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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