Ballet and Poverty: The Dance of Escape


STANFORD, California –There are multiple ways to help individuals lift themselves out of poverty. The best-known methods used by the U.N. include providing an education, increasing access to health services, building infrastructure and training farmers in better agricultural practices. However, there are many other methods for individuals to access better opportunities and standards of living. A surprising avenue toward a better future is found in dance, specifically ballet.

In the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil ballet has been able to break the poverty cycle. Dance offers an escape from the extreme violence and poverty that exists in slums and provides young people with a profession that can give them and their families a better life.

For Filipino Jessa Balote, learning ballet allowed her to become a professional dancer in the Ballet Manila Company. This is a sweeping success considering that she grew up in a slum as a garbage collector. According to Southeast Asia Globe, today Balote earns $530 a month dancing for the Ballet Manila Company, a salary much greater than it could have ever been as a garbage collector. Director of the company, Lisa Macuja, told the Globe that her dancer’s paycheck makes her “the breadwinner and hope of her family.”

Balote’s escape from poverty would not have been possible without the Project Ballet Futures scholarship given by the Ballet Manila Company. The scholarship not only pays for ballet training from a young age but also provides impoverished students with a monthly stipend, nutritious meals, vitamin supplements and clothes. This means that from a young age dancing ballet can help improve the standards of living of poor children.

Jessa Balote has not been the only one to benefit from ballet. South African professional dancer Dane Hurst was able to escape the gang violence, drug scene and poverty of his hometown through ballet. As was the case with Balote, Hurst was able to use dance as an escape route because there were free classes close to where he lived.

The Guardian further states that Hurst was only able to build a career in dance because he received a scholarship for the Rambert School in the United Kingdom. Because of the scholarship, Hurst became a professional dancer for the Rambert dance company, learning skills and earning the money to start his own dance school back in Africa.

In the Philippines and South Africa poor children depend on receiving a free education and free training in order to access new opportunities. The same is true in Brazil.

NBC News reports that a church group in Sao Paulo funds ballet classes for girls from the favelas. The House of Dreams dance studio gives girls that do not know how to read and write the chance to be recruited by ballet companies to become dancers.

Ballet in the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil shows that if given the right support, youth can use their talents and passions to escape poverty. A goal for the future should be to increase scholarships and funding for training and educating impoverished youth. In this way a greater number of people can escape poverty from a young age.

Christina Egerstrom

Photo: Flickr


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