How Ballet Is Inspiring Education and Activism in Rio de Janeiro

Daiana teaches ballet to young girls from impoverished areas in Rio de Janeiro
Daiana teaches ballet to young girls from impoverished areas in Rio de Janeiro | Lucas Dumphreys / © Culture Trip
Sarah Brown

Inspiration takes many forms, yet for one woman in Rio de Janeiro, it’s art and dance that are the fuel for pursuing a better life.

Daiana Ferreira de Oliveira is a ballet instructor in Manguinhos, a favela in the north of Rio. For her, ballet provides an escape from the challenges of living in the city and offers hope for her growing group of eager and talented students.

Daiana believes in the power of the arts and teaches her students to strive for their dreams
Discipline and creativity help the students thrive

The Manguinhos complex is a medley of favelas in the north of Rio de Janeiro and a place that has seen more than its fair share of the city’s problems. The social disparity is evident in this impoverished region. Yet despite the urban troubles, Daiana Ferreira de Oliveira sees a bright future and firmly believes that destiny is in people’s own hands.

The instructor hopes dance will give these girls inspiration for a brighter future

Daiana is a ballet instructor in Manguinhos and teaches dozens of children, teenagers and young adults. Inspired by the how the arts can unify people and spread joy, she uplifts the community with an array of classes. In addition to ballet lessons, she has recently added circus acts and reading courses to her curriculum. She bubbles with a contagious enthusiasm as she talks about her class’s upcoming musical Dancing and Reading, Literature in Movement. The theme is based on reading and the performance includes loose adaptations of famous storybooks such as The Ugly Duckling, Little Red Riding Hood and The Little Prince. Her students will perform a dazzling blend of classic and contemporary dance with elements of hip-hop and jazz.

Performances focus on activism, education, broadened perspectives and beauty
Students practise synchronization

For Daiana, these classes are a way to impart the joys of learning and studying to her students and teach them the importance of personal development. Growing up, she was also involved as a student in several social projects. “Today, I use everything that I learned during the social projects to maintain the development of these students, in the same way that I developed,” explains Daiana. “We need to be the instrument of social transformation.”

Ballet can be an instrument of social transformation

Daiana was born and brought up in Manguinhos. She describes her childhood home as a shack with no bathroom, yet she said it had dozens of books. She was encouraged to read and study in order to have a better future. Her mother believed reading and the arts were keys to instilling discipline and responsibility in her daughter and took her to watch performances at Rio’s grand Municipal Theater. It was there that Daiana became captivated with ballet and saw its potential to inspire social change.

A young ballet student stretches
Daiana teaches that art and education are life choices

As the country prepared for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, people in Rio de Janeiro became more optimistic and hopeful. The government made plans to build new schools in the favela and install a police presence there to ward off traffickers. Violence levels were dipping to a record low and the buzz of hosting a global sporting event was palpable. Manguinhos received a state library which Daiana started using as a studio for her ballet lessons.

Personal development can help the girls reach their potential

However, in 2014, as the economy took a turn for the worse, the initiatives never had the chance to come to fruition. Unemployment levels increased and the city’s old issues started creeping back in. Yet behind the doors of the now abandoned library, Daiana stood in front of a line of students between the ages of six and 29, as they practiced their stretches on the ballet bar. Her classes were not just continuing; they were thriving.

Daiana’s ballet classes remain popular, despite economic difficulties

Nowadays, she has more than 200 students from all corners of the Manguinhos communities. There are 15 classes in total with sessions in the morning, afternoon and evening. The students have two classes per week with one of the four classical ballet trained teachers. There are also excursions to museums, theaters and cultural centers, in addition to the dancing and reading projects.

A teacher shows her students the correct ballet posture

Among the complex web of disparity and social injustice, Daiana sees art and culture as a way of expanding her students’ minds to believe in a rich, fulfilling future. “Our objective is to use art and literature to strengthen the paths of these children, teenagers and young adults. To show them it’s a life choice,” she explains. “It gives them more options so they can make decisions about their lives, in the same way that other young people who have more opportunities can.”

Every day, Daiana gives a small but crucial dose of hope and inspiration to her community
landscape with balloons floating in the air


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