Blind Ballerinas in Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil is home to the world’s only professional ballet company for the blind. The ballet company is operated by the Fernanda Bianchini Association, a non-profit organization. The organization was founded by Fernanda Bianchini, a ballet instructor who for more than two decades has volunteered to teach people with sight deficiencies to dance and gain greater self-esteem.
Fernanda first took on this challenge while volunteering at the age of 15 with her parents at São Paulo’s Father Chico Institute for the Blind, where a nun asked her if she could give ballet classes to some children at the center. “I thought I was too young and incapable of teaching ballet to people with special needs. But my parents told me the wisest words I’ve heard in my life: ‘Never say no to a challenge because that’s where our greatest life lessons come from,’ ” Fernanda said.
Now 39 years old, Fernanda is credited with creating the first method for teaching classical ballet to the visually impaired. Because Fernanda couldn’t show her students the movements necessary to master ballet, her entire method of teaching had to be built collectively from scratch and entirely through the sense of touch.
“When they’re here, they forget about the problems they face outside,” Fernanda says about her young pupils. “They gain autonomy, self-confidence, and determination to never back down from any problem in life,” she says.
One of Fernanda’s first students, Geyza Pereira, has now become a ballet teacher herself in Fernanda’s company. Geyza lost her sight at age nine and has danced ever since and now teaches girls with the same disability to pursue their dreams. “The idea of a blind dance instructor was once thought impossible,” Geyza said, “but thanks to Fernanda, that’s no longer true.”
The music starts, the girls face the mirror and Geyza asks her standard question: “Where do ballerinas look?” “Up at the stars,” they reply. The students are blind and some have never seen the sky, but they know that if they want to achieve their goals they need to lift up their heads and look with the eyes of their hearts.
Geyza, 31, kneels down and gently corrects the position of her young pupils’ feet. She explains the steps in a tender voice, lowers herself to the floor and tells them to touch their legs to make sure they have the right posture. It’s the teaching method she learned from Fernanda.
The students at the Association have different levels of vision; some have limited sight, while one girl was born without eyes. However, they know that their disability does not impede them from dancing because Geyza is their role model.
Geyza comes from a poor family in the interior of Pernambuco, yet she has gone on to become the star of a recent documentary about her life and the Bianchini academy titled “Olhando pras Estrelas” (Looking at the Stars). “I wondered how a blind person could make such beautiful movements like those of ballet. Fernanda told me to believe in my dreams, and I’m still doing that today,” Geyza said.
For more information: http://www.associacaofernandabianchini.org/
[Research for this article comes from the Latin American Herald Tribune.]