Growing up amid drug dealers and addicts, Gabriela has yet to learn how to read. Yet she and other girls from a rough neighborhood known as a "cracolandia," or crackland, are learning the graceful art courtesy of a local church group that also offers them food, counseling and Bible studies. The class is among several groups where young dancers hope to catch the eye of a respected Brazilian ballerina who recruits dozens of disadvantaged girls for an annual workshop.
Twice a week, more than 20 girls, ages 5 through 12, board a
On a recent day, instructor
The time spent focused on grace and control is far removed from the girls' daily lives. Many are being raised by parents who are recovering from or are addicted to drugs. Some girls live with relatives who are dealers, or they have been abandoned and taken in by neighbors. Some have experienced violence.
Girls growing up in favelas are more likely to become pregnant as teens, and the last 2010 census found the rate of illiteracy was twice as high in the slums than in other areas of
"We see all kinds of stories here. From girls who haven't showered in days, who don't know how to brush their teeth, who are locked inside their homes all day," said Machado, instructor and head of the project. "I feel always responsible for their lives, always worried about what may happen."
Machado just opened the studio named "
Yokoi recently traveled to another slum in
At the workshop in Paulinia, a city north of
"The way I see ballet in these forgotten areas is that it brings children hope. They audition, they participate in a workshop and they are more motivated," Yokoi said. "I see my project as a window into what ballet can become in
Russians largely introduced classical ballet to
Mendonca's father was a mail carrier and her mother unemployed when the family moved to Joinville so she could join the Bolshoi school as a scholarship student.
"We struggled. We had no money," Mendonca said. "But it changes your mindset. Many doors open for future opportunities."
Back in the "crackland" studio, some of the girls make faces and giggle at their reflections in the large mirror next to the barre. The barre work requires more concentration, instructor Machado tells them as they bend their knees into what is known in ballet parlance as a grand plie. Keep your chin and chest lifted, but not too much, she tells them. Keep your back firm, not arched.
"You think it is easy. It looks easy. It's not, and it hurts," Machado tells three sisters who joined the group earlier this year.
After class, the girls get in the van to return home. At the last stop, 8-year-old
But eventually, she has to go. "It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare," she sings as she glides side to side and disappears into the gritty dark hallway.
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OCTOBER 30, 2014
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