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#Sundayreading -Favela Girls Pirouette Out of Poverty in Brazil



FORTALEZA, Brazil — Bom Jardim, home to some 200,000 people, is one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in this city. Located at the southwestern tip of the metropolis, with long streets laid in a grid, the signs of poverty appear everywhere: cracked cement or none at all, half-built houses and other makeshift architecture recently occupied by migrants from the countryside.

It is here that the Brazilian prima ballerina, Dora Andrade, has set up her School of Dance and Social Integration for Children and Adolescents (Edisca), which enables girls from the favelas, or slums, to not just get a formal education and learn dance but also to learn important social skills. Moreover, it provides the students a daily full meal and shows them how to care for and respect their bodies.

Free of charge, the girls who enroll in Andrade’s school generally come from three of Fortaleza’s poorest localities, one of them a shantytown built on the edge of the city’s garbage dump. A majority of the girls cannot read or write and come from broken homes.

“Since 1991, Edisca has been providing high-quality interdimensional education that combines reason, emotion, willpower and self-improvement through art, preparing students for life and creating opportunities,” said Andrade, adding, “Dance can make a more humane world. . . .  The best thing is knowing that all the girls are well fed, happy, intelligent and that they can realise their dreams. They have a sparkle in their eyes that is not often seen on other girls, rich or poor. For me, this is the most important.”

Madeline Abreu, a psychologist at Edisca, understands the emotional burdens that the students are carrying and thinks the school gives them a shot at normalcy.

“The reality is that socioeconomic hardship often pushes young people in these localities towards drug abuse, child labor and even prostitution,” Abreu said. “Initially, we started off by offering dance lessons in ballet, which is generally taught to girls from wealthy families. From there they moved to contemporary forms. So, in a way, Edisca now specializes in modern dance, which has its foundations in the classical ballet techniques. Of course, as it evolved, the dance school expanded into other disciplines, including singing, theatre and visual arts as well as new educational functions, such as tutoring and English and computer classes.”

It soon became necessary for the school to provide food for the students because many of them were undernourished and had poor eating habits. “Dance is a physical language and it is essential for dancers to be in excellent physical condition and practice good hygiene,” Abreu said. “Another cost that the school felt necessary to absorb was transportation. Most children who go here live on the distant outskirts of the city and often cannot afford the bus fare.”


Tatiane Gama, a 31-year-old Edisca graduate, said in an interview, “I learnt to eat vegetables here.” Gama’s life turned around the day she stepped into the school at age 8. She was one of the school’s first students and is now a professional dance instructor there.

“Our education happens in stages,” Gama said. “At the onset we dance. Ballet particularly teaches discipline. Then we get on to the basics of reading and writing. There’s also psychological counseling for most children, traumatized as they are witnessing street violence day in and day out.”

Gama has been teaching dance since she she was 18 and thinks it has saved her from a life of hard work with no returns. “I was fortunate to have been inducted into Edisca,” she said. “By then, the school management had realized that once children turn 16 or 17, their parents are keen on withdrawing them from school so that they can take up a job.” This led to the start of the Edisca Dance Company, which draws the most talented dancers at the school and tours worldwide. The dancers are paid a monthly stipend of around $50, Gama said.

Some Edisca students move into academia or other professional careers. Jamila de Oliveira Lopez, 23, hopes to become a journalist soon. “I want to be able to express myself in words, too,” she said. Lopez was always at the top of her class even though she had to do her homework in her family’s kitchen because she shared a room with her two sisters in a house located in a rough neighborhood.

Edisca currently has 400 students enrolled, and to keep it and the dance company going, it must do extensive fund-raising through performances and donations. Unesco, in addition, has created a partnership with the Repetto Foundation, built on the French ballet costume maker, to help finance Edisca.

“Poverty is not just lack of resources, it’s the inequality that can steal a child’s future,” Lopez said. “Seeing the students of Edisca on stage is like seeing them overcome all the difficulties that deprivation brings with it. Girls forget their sadness and learn to take destiny into their own hands.”


Favela Girls Pirouette Out of Poverty in Brazil

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Freedom of movement: dancing Egypt’s revolution

Morsi denounced dance and dancers alike. Conservative Islamic parties launched crackdowns. Will culture fare any better in the new Egypt?

Egyptian girls dance at a festival

The body politic … Egyptian girls dance at at festival. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

In the days since Egypt‘s President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood party were abruptly ejected from power, the world’s attention has beenfocused on the violent events in Tahrir Square and beyond, and the machinations of the country’s military as it seeks to control power.

But one of the most fascinating aspects of the story – little reported in the face of wider events – is how it reflects Egypt’s cultural politics. Although their list of grievances is long, it’s perhaps surprising to hear that one of the many factors galvanising the opposition was the sacking of key figures in the Egyptian arts by the culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz.

One of them was Inas Abdel-Dayem, the much-respected director of Cairo Opera House: and as artists and management demonstrated their protest, many believed that it was the ballet, even more than the opera, that had been targeted by the creeping “brotherhoodisation” of Egyptian culture.

Morsi’s own disapproval of dance is well-known. Eight years ago he made a statement on television denouncing dance as a violation not only of sharia law but of the Egyptian constitution. Under his regime, attacks on dance and dancers became commonplace. Some weeks ago, a ballet school was threatened with closure by a member of the ultra-conservative Nour party on the grounds that dancing could inflame public “indecency”, and that ballet is “the art of nudity, spreading immorality and obscenity among people”. On an informal level, too, members of the Muslin Brotherhood began taking it upon themselves to break up public dance performances – including, last month, this rather bland ballet-styled cabaret show in Cairo.


Of course ballet is a problem for any regime that wants to govern by strict sharia law. It is a western secular import, it puts women’s bodies on blatant public view, it sanctions their intimate physical contact with men. Dance in general is anathema to this fundamentalist school of Islam, given its celebration of the beauty and unlicensed energy of the female body.

But it’s precisely that energy that can also make dance a powerful force for change. In Iran, women have been banned from dancing in public ever since the 1979 revolution. Yet an active “underground” dance scene now flourishes, even if it has to categorise itself as “rhythmical movement” or “sport”, to avoid prosecution. One popular manifestation is the number of young Iranian women developing skills in hip-hop and parkour (free running). This fast, free expressive form of movement is both a symbolic and practical act of defiance against a culture where young women are regularly and aggressively harassed on the street

Equally moving is the dance project that was organised two years ago by Anahita Razmi, a half-Iranian artist based in London. She was inspired in part by the violent political protests of 2009, when many young men and women in Tehran literally shouted their anger from the tops of houses and apartment blocks. But in paying homage to that protest, Razmi was using the cool minimalist filter of Trisha Brown’s 1971 work Roof Piece, for which Brown had placed herself and 11 other dancers on the roofs of downtown Manhattan lofts, their bodies silhouetted against the skyline. Back then, Brown’s interest had been liberating dance from conventional theatre: in Razmi’s project, though, the Iranian dancers were making a far braver, more radical statement of emancipation – strong women dancing freely, high above the heads of a disapproving state.

Dance has always been a lightning conductor for religious and moral attitudes. Fundamentalists of many schools and cultures have condemned it as the expression of humanity’s baser, more turbulent and sinful self. Back in the high puritan era of 17th-century England, when Oliver Cromwell tried to ban all forms of public dance, from court masques and ballets to maypole dancing, the effect of the prohibition was to create a generation for whom dance represented sin. When Charles II was restored to the throne, reopened the theatres and encouraged dance and music, Samuel Pepys felt he might be putting himself in moral jeopardy, the first time he tried a few dance steps at a party: “at last we fell to dancing, the first time that ever I did in my life” he wrote on April 10 1661, “[and] I did wonder to see myself to do”.

Pepys’ fear of the moral fallout from dancing was confirmed when he and his wife Elizabeth took professional lessons, and the sexual attraction they formed for their respective female and male tutors created a period of turbulent jealousy (albeit one of many) in their marriage. Pepys was relieved finally when all the capering stopped. He could forget about mastering the tricky manoeuvres of the “coranto” or courante, and at last fall “to quiet of mind and business again”. In Egypt, tragically, quiet of mind and business have become very distant goals.


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