LIMA, Perú — The three Venezuelan migrants eke out a living 90 seconds at a time in a busy intersection of Peru’s capital. When the traffic light flashes red, the acrobatics and break dancing starts.
With a captive audience of pedestrians and commuters packed inside city buses, the dancers’ headstands, dizzying spins and fast-paced steps on a good day net up to $20 in pocket change — nearly three times the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela.
It also earned them a brush with a Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie.
“You never know how it will go in the street,” said dancer Karin Rojas. “One day it’s good and the next day it’s bad.”
The trio is just part of a flood of Venezuelans fighting for survival after fleeing their homeland and the worst economic crisis anybody in Latin America can remember.
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Most Venezuelan migrants head to neighboring Colombia, overwhelming border towns. They hawk their valuables on the street, sell hotdogs or repair shoes.
Farther-off Peru is the second-most-common destination.
Rojas, 25, and her husband, Francisco Diaz, arrived in Lima in 2016, leaving behind their mountainous home in the Venezuelan state of Merida, where they ran a break dancing collective.
In Peru, they met the third partner, Angel Fernandez, a short and stout 22-year-old from their home state. The three settled on a busy intersection in Lima to perform.
Six days a week, they bound into the intersection with each red light — an exhausting 80 times over a 13-hour workday. They end some days just $5 richer, and hurting physically.
The sun cooks the asphalt. Their palms are covered in calluses and fingers sometimes bleed. Rojas says her bones ache and her head throbs.
Still, Rojas said, their life is better than in Venezuela, where she would go two days in a row without eating. Now, she can afford three meals a day.
Their dancing also caught the attention of Jolie in October, when the American actress visited Lima as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Their moves impressed Jolie, and she told them not to give up their dreams.
Rojas and Diaz hope to parlay earnings from their street dancing into buying a three-wheel motorcycle taxi, a common form of transportation in Lima’s poor outskirts.
“We’re never going to stop dancing,” Rojas said. “Dancing helps us forget all of our sorrows.”