Rio’s ballerinas

September 7, 2012

By Pilar Olivares

When I first reached Ballet Santa Teresa’s school for underprivileged girls and met the students, I didn’t take a single picture. I didn’t dare to. The girls, who are almost all from families living in some form of social risk, approached as if confronting me, dancing and yelling.

For a while I felt like an intruder. They were wearing jeans instead of ballet dresses, and were listening to Rio’s famous funk carioca music. At my home in a mountainous neighborhood of Rio, I hear funk floating towards us from the surrounding shantytowns known the world over as favelas.

So these girls, completely fascinated by this music that I find irritating, shut off their music players as soon as Vania arrived. Vania, a former professional ballerina and now director of the school, doesn’t like funk either, and doesn’t like them to listen to it. The girls, who can be as rude as they are angelic, hurriedly dressed and suddenly became purely feminine as they put on their makeup for an important rehearsal. Several of them didn’t know how to use makeup, so Vania came over to help.

I was impressed by the mixture of races and colors among the girls, each of them beautiful and brave.

I had just moved to Rio and my most frequent question is how the people get used to living with the violence. Most of the girls at the Santa Teresa Ballet are victims or witnesses of domestic violence, and some of them are already mothers themselves.

To reach the school they run down the hills from the favelas, following a path of ballet shoes hanging from trees. One pair for each tree, along these narrow colonial streets invaded by the surrounding jungle. It looks as if the hanging shoes had the mission to guide them to school in case one of them got lost, somehow.

I was left with the feeling that they had the answers to some of my questions, of how to live amidst gang wars, stray bullets, and rampant violence. They are forced to grow up as quickly as possible, and live in the best way possible – dancing, smiling, and joining hands in their own company.

One comment

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Thank you for these stunning images, and this wonderful story. I would be quite interested in following the story of an individual girl taking these ballet lessons, in addition to the group images.

Posted by SarahMarsh | Report as abusive