- Development & Aid
- Economy & Trade
- Human Rights
- Global Governance
- Civil Society
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
FORTALEZA, Brazil, Sep 7 2009 (IPS) - "My family’s lives changed," said Maria Erilma da Silva, a mother of three girls and a teenage boy, listing a whole series of transformations, from changes in eating and personal hygiene habits to "the security of knowing where my daughters are" and even an end to her husband’s frequent drinking binges.
All three have learned how to properly use a fork and knife and stopped eating all their meals with a spoon. They have also picked up the habit of brushing their teeth after every meal – although Raquel, 12, sometimes forgets.
But the most welcome change of all, reported Maria, is that their father has finally stopped drinking every day, "even though he had already fallen off his bike and cut himself over the eye," she added.
"Whenever he went out drinking, you knew you were in for a show," said one of her daughters, 15-year-old Rafaela. One time, while he was drunk, he thought he was Superman and climbed to the top of a water tank, then fell off and twisted his ankle, recalled Maria, who works as a kitchen assistant in a school cafeteria.
The father, Francisco Gomes Martins, confesses that he quit drinking "for the sake of my daughters" when they started attending EDISCA. "I made my mind up on the spur of the moment, just like I quit smoking, once and for all, without going through any kind of withdrawal," he said, although he admits he still has a beer now and then. Francisco does inspection work for the city government, although he is currently facing the threat of losing his job.
You can feel the influence of EDISCA throughout the neighbourhood of Bom Jardim, where the family lives in a large half-constructed house, even though the school itself is located on the other side of the city, more than an hour away by bus.
Bom Jardim, home to some 200,000 people, is one of Fortaleza's poorest and most violent neighbourhoods. At the southwestern tip of the metropolitan area, with long streets set out in an orderly grid, the signs of poverty are everywhere: cracked cement or none at all; an abundance of houses that are only half-built; and the makeshift architecture typical of areas that have only recently been occupied, as a result of the exodus from the countryside.
Bom Jardim is also the largest source of EDISCA students, according to Katiana Pena, who was trained as a dance instructor at the school. Today, Katiana teaches dance classes at the Bom Jardim Cultural Centre, a tall, modern building that stands out starkly in the neighbourhood, and is attended by more than 800 girls and boys.
Founded in 1991 and directed by Dora Andrade, EDISCA is a non-governmental organisation that caters exclusively to children and adolescents from poor neighbourhoods. It has close to 400 regular students, all of whom also attend public primary or secondary schools – a requirement for taking classes there.
By offering the children of the poor access to ballet, formerly taught almost exclusively to the daughters of wealthy families, "we broke a paradigm," said Andrade. EDISCA specialises in modern dance, but classical ballet technique is the foundation of the training offered there, she explained.
What began as an educational project, in which the training of dancers and dance teachers emerged spontaneously, eventually expanded into the social services area, and now provides 1,500 families with medical, dental, psychological and nutritional services.
As it evolved, the dance school also expanded into other disciplines, including singing, theatre and visual arts, as well as new educational functions, such as tutoring and English and computer classes.
Soon it also became necessary to provide food for the students, under the guidance of nutritionists, 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, such as regularly brushing their teeth, commented Andrade.
Another cost that the school was obliged to take on was that of subsidising transportation, because the children who go there live in the distant outskirts of the city and often cannot afford the bus fare to get there.
EDISCA students attend the school for four and a half years, on average. Very few drop out, which means that only around 50 children between the ages of seven and twelve are admitted each year, although the demand for enrolment is ten times greater. There are long waiting lists to get in, which means the school is forced to carry out a frustratingly limited selection process, based on the criteria of social need and aptitude.
"I learned to eat vegetables here," said Tatiane Gama, 26, whose life story is a reflection of the history of EDISCA itself. She was one of the students in the very first intake, when the school first opened, and remains there today. She began dance lessons at the age of eight, then went on to become a member of the EDISCA dance company, and finally became a teacher there at the age of 18.
The dance elite
When the students reach the end of secondary school at the age of 16 or 17, they are no longer able to attend classes at EDISCA and are pressured by their parents to go out and look for jobs. This fact led the school to create a dance company, made up of the most talented dancers, who are paid a monthly stipend of around 100 reals (50 dollars), explained Gama.
The number of members varies over time, but there are usually around 40 young dancers in this semi-professional dance troupe, who continue to receive ongoing training. The company has given highly acclaimed performances of a number of works choreographed by Dora Andrade, sometimes in conjunction with her brother, Gilano Andrade.
The first work in their repertoire, which premiered in 1995, was "Jangurussu", based on the lives of hundreds of families who survive by scavenging for food and sellable materials in a huge garbage dump in Fortaleza. A number of other works are social critiques, including "Koi-Guera", which deals with genocide perpetrated against indigenous people, and "Urbes Favela", about life in the favelas or slums.
"Mobilis", a work that premiered in 2003, is more abstract, described as "a choreographic exploration of movement." Up until last year, a total of 188,380 spectators had attended the 260 performances given in Brazil and abroad.
Performing with the EDISCA dance company "made it possible for me to visit France, Italy, Germany, Austria and the United States," as well as many cities throughout Brazil, "an opportunity that other schools wouldn’t have given me," said Gama, who now teaches in a number of other institutions in addition to EDISCA.
EDISCA has produced the "most successful" instructors at Fortaleza’s ballet academies, she added, citing a number of examples, including one former male student who has created his own dance company and developed into a talented and successful choreographer.
The owners of the city’s dance academies recognise the advantages of hiring her former schoolmates, added Gama, thanks to their discipline, their reliability, and the knowledge they have acquired by taking part in performances in big theatres in Brazil and abroad.
EDISCA’s overriding goal, however, is not to train dancers, but rather to offer a high-quality "interdimensional" education that combines reason, emotion, willpower and self-improvement through art, preparing students for life and creating opportunities, stressed Andrade.
Erika Dayane, 27, studied theatre and choral singing during the 11 years she spent at EDISCA. She did not specialise in dance and never formed part of the dance company, but she left the school with a broader training that serves her well today as a community therapist at the Psychosocial Care Centre (CAPS), a local government mental health services agency.
"I am a mixture, an artist and a therapist," commented Dayane, who is an activist in the local Community Mental Health Movement as well as working for CAPS in the Bom Jardim neighbourhood. She explained that she uses art "to awaken the will to live and the dormant creativity" in individuals who suffer from depression and drug addiction, are victims of violence, or simply suffer the effects of living in extreme poverty.
"My goal is to break with the hospitalisation and medication model through art. Many patients no longer need doctors after practising dance and singing," she said. With the salary she currently earns, she contributes to her family’s living expenses and is also paying for her own university studies in occupational therapy, although it will take her a considerable time to earn her degree, since she can only afford to take a few courses at a time.
In Bom Jardim, EDISCA’s influence is also reflected in the leadership of its former students in the neighbourhood’s schools and cultural activities. One example is Ana Maria Marques, 23, a former secondary school student leader who now struggles to support herself and her young son as an organic crafts instructor and a facilitator of other cultural projects.
EDISCA alumni also made up the majority of the young people who created the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture), later replaced by Nosso Espaço (Our Space), which offers theatre, dance, crafts, a library and university prep courses for local children and adolescents.
Encouraging formal schooling is another of the dance school’s missions. A number of its former students have graduated from or are currently attending university, something extremely rare in the neighbourhoods where they live. Tatiane Gama is studying physical education, while Daniele Monteiro, 21, who attended EDISCA for 12 years and now works there as an administrative assistant, is studying journalism.
In the future, many more youngsters from Bom Jardim and similar neighbourhoods will have access to university educations thanks to a programme through which some of the top private schools in Fortaleza provide scholarships to selected EDISCA students. In 2008, 49 of these scholarships were awarded.
The performances by the school’s dance company are a major learning process in themselves. For "Urbes Favela", for example, all of the students participated in research on the slum neighbourhoods of Fortaleza, including the media’s portrayal of them and the hopes and dreams of local residents, in addition to workshops on stage direction, design, music, video, make-up and other areas of theatrical production.
Despite its admirable social and educational outcomes, EDISCA continues to face financial difficulties, even though it has had its own headquarters specially designed for its activities since 1999. The school has been forced to cancel classes on Fridays and is carrying out a campaign to seek individual donations as a means of overcoming the financial crisis.
** The photographs in this article are used with the permission of the photographer, Mila Petrillo. They are taken from her book "Arte de Transformação", published by ANDI, SESC SP and Fondo Nacional de Cultura, which features 600 photographs taken over the course of 14 years of 52 projects involving social transformation through the arts.
|" This article forms part of the "Art Is the Best Education" series of reports. The project that gave rise to this effort was the winner of the AVINA Investigative Journalism scholarship. The logos must be published with the reports. The AVINA Foundation and Casa Daros, its local partner in the Art and Society category, are not responsible for the ideas, opinions or other aspects of the content. ".|
This story includes downloadable print-quality images -- Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
IPS is an international communication institution with a global news agency at its core,
raising the voices of the South
and civil society on issues of development, globalisation, human rights and the environment
Copyright © 2021 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. - Terms & Conditions
You have the Power to Make a Difference
Would you consider a $20.00 contribution today that will help to keep the IPS news wire active? Your contribution will make a huge difference.