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With Ballet, Brazilian Girls Leap from Poverty to Plies

SAO PAULO — Past the graffiti-covered overpass and subway tracks, in a slum penned in by high-rises, 8-year-old Gabriela Aparecida fixes her curly hair into a bun as she waits for a ride to her new favorite activity: ballet. Peeling back the tarp over the doorway, the skinny girl reaches out into the dirt alleyway to hug the church volunteer arriving to take her to dance class.

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.

Image:
In this Aug. 8, 2014 photo, a church worker walks ballet student Maria home after her ballet class at The House of Dreams dance studio in a neighborhood overrun by crack addicts, called "Crackland," in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil. 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 Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) Andre Penner / AP

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.

Many of the girls are being raised by parents who are recovering from or are addicted to drugs. Some live with relatives who are dealers, or 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 Brazil.

"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 Joana Machado, instructor and head of the project.

– Associated Press