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Slums to Stage: Project Ballet Futures Provides Dance Lessons for Children

Project Ballet Futures has been taking a unique approach to saving children worldwide from poverty in poorer regions of the developing world. It is a scholarship program that provides free ballet education to middle and high school aged children who would not otherwise be able to afford lessons. The program was started in 2008 by Ballet Manila, a classical ballet institution as well as a dance company in the Philippines.

Lisa Macuja is the Philippines’ most famous prima ballerina and the artistic director of Ballet Manila who started the Project Ballet Future program. According to CNN, Macuja has been known to pay for the students’ lessons and uniforms personally.

The School of Ballet Manila’s website explains that the school “aims to develop, nurture and produce highly skilled dance artists.” In order to do that, the school provides the students with “meals, a glass of milk and vitamin supplements six days a week.”

Jessa Balote has been one such recipient of the ballet scholarship and the opportunity to take lessons. She is 17 and according to the Southeast Asia Globe, “[Jessa] has undergone a radical transformation from garbage picker to dancer,” because of the program. She is now a ballet company artist with a successful career, but “she spent her early childhood helping her parents rummage for scrap in a massive garbage dump near [her] home.

Balote explained that “I used to dance but had never tried ballet… I went to the audition because my older brother Jason helped … and pushed me to do my best,” she said.

In the past seven years since she first auditioned, Balote has been in Swan Lake and Don Quixote. She has also been able to travel the world, dancing in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

Balote “earns more than $530 a month at Ballet Manila, far surpassing her father Giorgio’s salary as a part-time construction worker and garbage picker, which was never enough to sustain his wife, their six children and two grandchildren,” according to Southeast Asia Globe.

“I want to help my family,” Balote said in her interview with Southeast Asia Globe. “This is such a difficult place to grow up because this is a squat and it is not safe for [my family].”

There are about four million people estimated to be living in slums in Manila’s ghettos and about a third of the Philippines’’ inhabitants are living below the poverty line. Undeniably, Project Ballet Futures will be incapable of solely eradicating such widespread and rampant poverty, but for the children and families that they are able to help in pursuing a dancing career, the scholarships the program provides can be invaluable. “Project Ballet Futures [strives to] send more children from the streets to the stage and on to a brighter tomorrow,” their promotional website explains.

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