A dance class was about to start in Petare, which is one of the largest neighborhoods in Latin America, located at the eastern end of Caracas. To break the ice, Gabriela Alonzo, the instructor, asked the children a question.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Some said engineers, lawyers, firemen, police, veterinarians. The most rebellious one said he didn’t want to be anything. But in class, he was one of the best dancers, exuding talent and grace. He enjoyed it.
Weeks later, Alonzo organized another dance class in the same neighborhood. When the rebellious boy saw her, he ran to hug her and, excited, said, “When I grow up, I want to be a dancer!”
This story illustrates the meaning of I Dance Life, a project Alonzo created four years ago as a social responsibility program of her dance academy, Zhorí.
“I don’t know if that child will really continue in dance. But it is clear that there was a change in him. Dance moved him. He discovered that he was good at something. He felt motivated in an environment of poverty,” Alonzo said.
I Dance Life views dance as a powerful vehicle for social transformation. Its goal is to visit disadvantaged communities and offer dance classes for young people. At these events, first they talk about values. They stretch. And then, the participants immerse themselves in the world of rhythm and movements: sounds of folklore, salsa, merengue and flamenco. They rehearse choreographies again and again, and, when they are ready, they present them to an audience.
Alonzo wanted to take the project a step further. She structured a three-month workshop, designed like an academy. Participants attend classes three times a week. Objectives are set out, people dance and at the end of the training their accomplishment is evaluated and they make a presentation.
“Art is a bridge that connects,” Alonzo said. “We don’t intend to train professional dancers, but to sow a seed. They must learn the values of a dancer: discipline, delivery, perseverance, confidence, effort; and that, even if they dedicate themselves to other things, they can apply those things. We want young people to use leisure time better. That can reduce crime. It’s an optimistic gamble. The dance is a mirror of you: it’s easy to see how you evolve. If you miss a step, you must repeat, repeat, repeat. And when it comes out, everyone sees it. Dance is the best way I’ve known to appreciate the value of effort and work.”
Since 2011, I Dance Life has developed dance classes and conversations in 37 communities in Caracas. 3,854 people have participated, most of them children and young people.