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Performance: Favela ballet, Kathak and the Circus of My Sun

Rio’s favela ballerinas, Karachi’s Kathak dancers and Morocco’s circus artists use performance to overcome adversity.

Rio’s Favela Ballerinas

In Brazil’s favelas, it is not unusual to find dead bodies or see people selling drugs on every corner. The victims of gang violence and stray police bullets are often children and teenagers.

But Tuany Nascimento, an experienced dancer, has taken it upon herself to become a teacher for young girls in the Alemao slum of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

“I started dancing when I was five. I already knew then that I wanted to dance. Whenever I had any free time, I practised. Then the girls showed up and asked me to teach them what I know.”

Her classes offer a window of opportunity for the girls while keeping them away from the frequent violence that surrounds them.

Karachi’s Kathak Dance

For Sheema Kermani dance in Pakistan is activism. She has championed gender equality and freedom of expression her entire life in a society that often represses these rights, especially for women. 

“Since 1983 I have been teaching and I have been performing. What I do is try and create something we can call Pakistani classical dance that means something to me living in this society, as a woman in this very patriarchal, very religious atmosphere,” Kermani says.

Kermani creates a safe space for women to learn Kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. For many of the women participating, her training gives them the courage to live their lives as freely as they can and to stand up against the challenges they face.

“When these girls come to me they are a little hunched up, their spines are not straight because they are constantly told that they must hide their bodies, they must not be expressive with their bodies, be ashamed of our bodies. And that is what I want to subvert. I want them to be proud of their bodies,” Kermani says.

Kermani and her students travel to different communities and perform plays and dances that address social issues, like the medical negligence of women and domestic abuse. The performances are acts of defiance and solidarity as well as community outreach.

“Activism. That is what really is important in performing arts. That you provoke people to think. You move them to question their own lives,” Kermani says.

Circus of My Sun

When the circus school in Morocco opens its doors to young children living on the streets, it offers them hope and opportunity. The school presents a pathway out of struggle, under the glimmering lights of the stage.

“Before it became the national circus school, this was a project for disadvantaged children,” acrobatic coach Imed explains.

“As we got better known, we did a small project which did well. And so we became the national circus school.”

The Circus of My Sun school, also known as Cirque Shemsy, gained academic recognition in 2009. Students can gain a diploma recognised by the Moroccan state after four and a half years of professional training.

Circus performances are not common in Morocco. For many of the young artists, the circus school becomes their home, family and an important chance to pursue their dreams.