Dora Andrade (Brazil 1995) has created a program that combines dance training with other learning opportunities and support services for girls in economically and culturally deprived communities on the outskirts of Fortaleza, Brazil. The program is making important contributions to the girls' social development and equipping them with the confidence that will enable them to enter adulthood with a positive outlook and develop productive lives.
The New Idea
For girls growing up in severely impoverished circumstances in Fortaleza and other Brazilian cities, opportunities and experiences that contribute to healthy personal development and self-esteem are in exceedingly short supply, and prospects for happy and productive lives are correspondingly dim. Dora Andrade is convinced, however, that a judicious combination of dance training and other support services can have dramatically positive effects on the development and life prospects of girls and young women in those circumstances. A talented dancer and dance teacher, Dora knows that dance training increases girls' creativity and self-confidence. She also believes that it can strengthen social values and social skills that help girls stay in school, maintain emotional bonds with their families and resist the deceptive lures of street life, drugs and prostitution. Acting on those convictions, she has established a dance school that supplements demanding dance training with a broad array of educational and recreational activities and supporting health and counseling services.
In its first five years of operation, the dance school has met with considerable success in enriching the lives and addressing the pressing needs of the several hundred students that it has served. It has also elicited strong community support in the form of volunteer services and financial contributions. On the basis of that success, Dora now hopes that it will serve as a model for similar ventures in other settings.
In a country of unusually pronounced contrasts between rich and poor, grinding poverty and its tragic consequences are particularly evident in Dora's home town of Fortaleza and neighboring states in the northeast of Brazil. As a consequence of persistent drought, agricultural practices that have badly eroded fragile soils and high rates of population growth, large numbers of people have migrated to the region's coastal cities, where they dwell in crowded, unsanitary and crime-ridden urban slums in which social services are notably absent. Not surprisingly, therefore, the rates of illiteracy and childhood malnutrition in Fortaleza, the capital city of Ceará, are far in excess of the national average, and other less readily quantifiable social ills are very much in evidence. For girls growing up in favelas in the outskirts of Fortaleza, the situation is particularly bleak. Poverty, malnutrition and inadequate educational opportunities impose their predictable tolls, which are often compounded by child abuse and other serious problems within families. As a result, many girls take to the streets, where they are exposed to all kinds of crime and danger, and where prostitution is rampant. And even for those who remain in their homes, opportunities for personal growth and for the development of a positive self-image are few and far between.
Founded in 1992, Dora's "School of Dance and Social Integration for Children and Adolescents" combines intensive dance training with a broad range of support services and activities for the girls who it enrolls. Support services in the fields of education, health and psychological counseling are provided by teams of volunteers supplemented by paid professionals. The latter group is compensated with funds raised from the School's "partners," which include the state government and the Bank of the State of Ceará. The process of admitting new groups of students is initiated in a series of meetings in which Dora explains the nature and purpose of the school and its programs to community leaders and organized groups in targeted low-income communities. Participants in those introductory sessions are asked to spread information about the school throughout their communities, and in subsequent meetings with the parents of potential applicants, Dora describes the school's operations and selection criteria, explains the full range of opportunities that it provides and asks them to encourage their daughters to audition for program openings.
For the 230 girls who are currently enrolled in its programs, the School's routine is very different from that of other dance training programs. In addition to demanding dance classes, its program includes a wide range of group activities that are designed to develop their creativity and critical faculties, enhance their ability to work effectively in groups and promote healthy self-esteem. Such activities include games, theater workshops, mime, choir singing, art classes and instruction in music appreciation. The school also organizes a series of talks on topics of community interest for students and their families.
Through agreements with state agencies, the School addresses several other student needs as well. It provides students with vouchers for free travel to and from the school, clothing that is essential for their participation in dance instruction and healthy meals on days in which they use the school's facilities. It also offers dental treatment and instruction in sexuality and body hygiene, and its psychologists and other staff members are available for counsel on a wide range of topics.
The School's short-term goals are to expand its program to 400 girls (in part by calling on advanced students to assist in the training of their younger counterparts), to enlarge its support activities by bringing in more volunteers and paid professionals, to augment its library and video collections, to develop a full range of health services for its students and to offer its teenage students employment counseling. In addition, Dora plans to produce a video and other materials for dance teachers in Ceará's public schools and to share the School's experience with appropriate audiences in other parts of Brazil and encourage its replication in other settings. Over the longer term, she also intends to develop special training programs and scholarship opportunities for particularly gifted dancers.
The origins of Dora's current work can be readily traced to her early childhood years. Born and raised in Fortaleza, she grew up in surroundings in which artistic expression was highly valued and concern for the wellbeing of less fortunate neighbors was the norm. Dora's mother, a history teacher and artist, viewed art both as an integral element of everyday life and as an important instrument for education, and she routinely brought her own and other artists' work to Fortaleza's poorest communities. As a teenager, manifesting similar concerns, Dora worked as a volunteer in homes for the elderly. Dora discovered her vocation for dance at an early age and knew, even then, that dance would be her lifelong passion. After seven years of study, which included specialized courses in Brasília and at the School of the Minnesota Dance Theater in the United States, she returned to Ceará, where she opened dance classes in Fortaleza and neighboring rural communities, often working with lepers' children and the daughters of poor, drought-affected farm workers.
In the early 1980s, with the explicit aim of integrating her artistic expression and social concerns, Dora formed the Dora Andrade Dance Group and created a series of productions in which themes of injustice and social inequality permeated her choreography. But during that same period she became increasingly concerned with the desperate plight of poor children, and she realized that occasional workshops for farm workers' children and dance scholarships for poor girls were insufficient responses to their needs. As Dora put it, the situation "demanded a deeper engagement and decisive action," and it was from that judgment that the School emerged.
Through the School, Dora has been able to reach and make an important difference in the lives of large numbers of poor and sometimes desperate young women. The imaginative and successful formula that she has developed for doing so has also attracted considerable national and international attention and support. The School is now a frequent port of call for representatives of development assistance agencies who visit the northeast of Brazil, and Dora's impressive accomplishments were recently recognized in an invitation to tour Italy with a team of 70 professionals and students.