Kenyan slum children realize their potential by learning ballet, here’s how

Stephen Nartey December 11, 2023
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Richwales

In a tin-roofed slum dwelling in Nairobi, thirteen-year-old Bravian Mise defies space constraints and executes graceful throws and pirouettes. The same drive that inspired the first steps of the young ballet dancer is what has propelled his larger-than-life dream of becoming a professional in the future.

Supported by Dance Centre Kenya, he joined a vibrant troupe of children dedicated to months-long rehearsals of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, according to Africa News. Despite being unfamiliar with the ballet initially, Bravian expressed unwavering determination, stating, “I love dancing; I dance because it’s magnificent,” just before taking the stage recently.

Before the troupe were ushered in for their performance under the supervision of Cooper Rust, a former professional dancer turned teacher and the artistic director of Dance Centre Kenya (DCK), months of preparations had gone in before the Nutcracker ballet performance. Rust, who also leads the NGO Artists for Africa, said the project has offered her the platform to promote inclusivity by creating a diverse troupe from various backgrounds.

She stressed that ballet is about talent and passion, not socio-economic background, and she hopes to break stereotypes surrounding the art. While lamenting the absence of a professional ballet company in Kenya, Rust expressed optimism of better days ahead, saying, “for the moment, but we’re getting there.”

For almost two hours, a youthful troupe of approximately a hundred children, aged 7 to 17, graced Nairobi’s national theatre with a performance of the Nutcracker ballet. The elaborate production involved hundreds of costumes and props, unfolding over nearly two hours. Accompanied by a Kenyan orchestra playing live music, the children captivated the audience, especially during the renowned Russian dance sequence.

Soaking in every moment, Bravian, a schoolboy from the Kuwinda shanty town in Nairobi, basks in the joy the dancing offers him. It wasn’t a pursuit he ever dreamed of but it has become his biggest aspiration. Dancing for four years, he, like around fifty other children, receives a grant to cover equipment costs and transport to rehearsals. This financial support makes the artistic pursuit accessible for families facing financial constraints, such as Bravian’s mother, Rehema Mwukali, who, without a permanent job, admires her son’s dedication while her husband works on construction sites.

“It’s much harder for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, they have to work harder to do it,” she said before concluding: “I’m so proud of him, he’ll succeed.”

Bravian does his daily exercises in a small, stuffy living room, undisturbed by the music emanating from a nearby bar. Despite the difficulties, he said: “One day, I’ll be a professional dancer”.

While over a thousand children have been part of Dance Centre Kenya (DCK) since its 2015 inception, only one, Joël Kioko, has turned professional, currently residing in the United States. Rust, DCK’s artistic director, explained that it typically takes a decade to train a dancer. Despite the journey ahead, Rust expressed confidence that more pupils will become professionals.

Lavender Orisa’s career serves as an inspiration for many youngsters from humble backgrounds associated with DCK. The 17-year-old from Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, defied expectations by earning a scholarship last year to study at the National Ballet School in London. Despite her origins, she said she was in utter disbelief when she found herself dancing in London.

Returning to Nairobi to complete her studies, Lavender admitted before taking the stage that it’s a huge responsibility to be a source of inspiration for others.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 11, 2023


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