Taking a flight from New York to São Paulo after spending eight hours on a plane from Amsterdam to New York and nine hours waiting around at the airport is well… how shall I put it… an experience. I was exhausted and had lost feeling in both my legs, shoulders and lower back. Luckily my tiredness quickly turned into excitement. While my first flight was pretty regular, this one was full of life and energy. The reason? The plane was filled with Brazilians.
The Brazilian way of life is something else. They love to talk, eat, hug, move, dance and talk some more. Even though most of them don’t speak English (for which they constantly apologize), they always try to help you in any way they can. Even when you try to speak Portuguese and fail miserably, they will smile and think it’s so cute that you even tried. Because even from afar I couldn’t pass for a Brazilian. I’m a gringa for sure and the Brazilians love it. So did the kids of Emei Dona Leopoldina, a small elementary school in a São Paulo neighborhood, where I met with dance teacher Cristina Vieira dos Santos (Cris) and experienced my first Brazilian creative dance class for children.
Emei Dona Leopoldina is a public school for children from 4 to 6 years old. Most children live in the neighborhood and a lot of them live in orphanages or have to deal with difficult situations at home. So instead of parent-teacher conferences the school organizes the so-called caregiver conferences and the school acts as a safe haven for a majority of the students. There are about 30 students per class and education in São Paulo is inclusive, which means there will be children with mixed abilities in class. According to Cris, this school is one of the best public schools in the city.
Cris started as a ballet student and teacher in Estúdio de Ballet Cisne Negro in São Paulo. She tells me about her time as a dance student, where she wasn’t allowed to talk or have an own opinion. During her studies she realized that there should be an exchange between teacher and students in order to bring out the best qualities of the individual. In her creative dance classes, she guides children to find their own movement and believes this is how they attain more knowledge about themselves, find more freedom within their movement and create a feeling of fulfillment. “The beauty of teaching children is that they take this knowledge with them for the rest of their lives.”
The dance classes take place in a beautiful open space in the center of the school’s playground. Next to it is a vibrant garden, maintained by the children and teachers. The dance class starts and the children start spreading their butterfly wings and jumping around like little frogs. Even though I don’t understand what they are saying, it is made quite obvious again that with dance we all speak the same language. But the difference this time is that most of these children don’t have the same opportunities in life as the children I teach in first world countries. And as much as this truly breaks my heart, it also fills me with joy to see them smile, play and dive into the movement. They are expressing themselves with their bodies and it makes them happy. This is what Moving Educators is all about.
After the class, Cris invites me to have lunch with the children. She places me at a tiny table, on a tiny chair surrounded by four boys that stare at me as if they have just seen a ghost. In fact, most of the children in the cafeteria are now looking at me or coming towards me, most of them have never seen a gringa before. They start telling me stories and all want to touch my hair and skin. Afterwards, I leave the school deeply moved by by what I have just experienced and with my pockets filled with little flowers handed to me by the children.
São Paulo isn’t the easiest city to be in when you’re not from there. It can be dangerous and even though most Brazilians are amazingly friendly, it’s difficult to get around if you don’t speak the language. For the people living here it can be a tough life. There is a lot of poverty, violence and corruption. It touches me to see this. It touches me to see and hear about the lives of these children. But it is necessary to see and share this. This is also the world we live in. After my visit Cris sends me a message where she thanks me for the work I am doing:
Your work is very important for us teachers. And for the world. We need to connect, and you do this, show our work so everybody can see it. Thank you!
Funny thing is, as much as I love to receive this message, I think it’s the other way around. It’s her work that is of most importance. I’m just sharing it so the world can see.
Special thanks to my dear friend Victoria Oggiam for being a perfect translator!