Teacher combats a Colombian youth crisis with dance
Internationally known dancer Alvaro Restrepo returned to his native land to help slum-dwelling children discover their potential and change their lives.
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Juan Guillermo, a professional dancer with the troupe who was one of the first youths to join the program, was left wide-eyed when he witnessed contemporary dance with Restrepo and Ms. Delieuvin for the first time, he says. Many years later, the school continues to bring life-changing experiences to children, he says, and not only in professional careers as dancers or dance teachers.Skip to next paragraph
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"It has helped so many young people develop values and respect their own bodies," he says.
Like every child in her neighborhood, Castro grew up dancing to whatever music was in the streets. But she got serious when she joined the training school eight years ago, combining her formal education with a demanding dance schedule that often keeps her going late into the evenings.
Her decision wasn't welcomed by her mother, who sells candies in a kiosk and wanted her eldest daughter to become an English teacher and pitch in more with family chores.
"She always reminds me, dancing does not last forever," Castro says. But dancing has changed her life, Castro says, by giving her a new way to express herself. Without it, "I would not know differently, like my old friends," she says.
Restrepo says many motivations drew him back to Cartagena, where he had spent summers as a child. One came from his mentor, South Korean choreographer Cho Kyoo-Hyun, who said to him while he was studying in New York City: "You have to go back to your country. You have to be the Gabriel García Márquez of dance," referring to the Colombian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.
In the late '70s, when Restrepo was studying piano and thought he might want to become a poet, he met a priest working with street kids in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, which set him thinking.
"We do not value children's potential. I met so many children that were forgotten," he says.
That drove him first into theater, with the goal of using it as a teaching tool, and later to dance.
Today he does not see his mission as purely social work. "If it is just social work, yes, it takes kids away from the street, they use their free time creatively, but you are not challenging them with a life project," he says. "I do not want to work with just poor kids – or rich kids. I want to work with talent."
Colombians are classified as belonging to one of six social classes. When Restrepo is asked which class the kids in The Body School come from, he replies, "Strata T" for "talent."
The school is about to move outside Cartagena onto five acres of land donated by the mayor and is launching a fundraising effort. The first building to be constructed will be called Athanor, In alchemy, the word refers to the furnaces where valuable concoctions are forged.
"It has a symbolic meaning," Restrepo explains. "It is where we make gold out of human beings."
• For more about The Body School, visit www.elcolegiodelcuerpo.org.
• For more stories about people making a difference, click here