Twenty-Five Year Old Dancer Runs Ballet School for Children in A Rio Favela

Classes take place in on a sports court and also include self-esteem development

Júlia Barbon
Rio de Janeiro

The phrase that Tuany Nascimento, 25, decided to tattoo on the left side of her stomach says a lot about her personality: "Only the impossible interests me." This saying also defines her life project—a free ballet school at Morro do Adeus, in the Complexo do Alemão favela. She founded the ballet school when she was just 18 years old.

Now she guides 38 girls and a boy in the first steps of ballet. But seven years ago she stood in the corner alone stretching and training jumps in between her work as an apprentice in marketing.

Tuany Nascimento, 24 (Foto: Zo Guimaraes/Folhapress, Agencia)

She did not want to forget the movements that she began learning at the age of five in the Olympic Village of the Maré Complex. She moved there as a little girl when her parents separated in Salvador.

Then she moved to the Alemão favela as a child. For a time, she had to stop sports and dance, because it was too dangerous to move between the favelas dominated by rival factions.

She restarted her ballet career when Alemão opened an Olympic Village, a trained there from ages 10 to 18. She represented Brazil in Switzerland at a high-profile international event at 17, but when she returned, her dream began to crumble.

There were no more competitions for her age, and costumes were expensive. "I began to realize that I could no longer dream of becoming a ballerina, and it made no sense for me to continue acting like I could become one, so I decided to stop dancing and went to work," said Tuany, the oldest of six siblings.

Then she began to use the corner of the court in her free time and, without mirrors, she became a mirror for others. Every day new girls came to learn what she did with her body. She would explain her movements as she divided her time between ballet and studying physical education in college.

She only realized that what she did with the girls was social work that went beyond the limits of dance when a commander of the UPP (Peacekeeping Police Unit) at the time called the group to perform at the cable car station in the favela. This was when the group's name emerged—At the Tip of the Feet.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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