International Dance Day: An Interview With Ana Botafogo

On April 29 occurs the global celebration of dance: International Dance Day. The event takes place every year on this date in honor of the anniversary of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet. On this day, we invited the astonishing Ana Botafogo, a renowned Brazilian ballet dancer, and teacher, to tell us about her career and her thoughts on polemic dance subjects. yoga sunrise Unsplash

Ana Botafogo was born in Rio de Janeiro, where she started her dance studies. Later, she got her first professional contract in Ballet de Marseille, in Paris, France. founded by Roland Petit. Two and a half years later, Ana returned to her hometown to be the prima ballerina of Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, which she's celebrating 40 years of career in 2021. She did a lot of reassemblies 19th-century repertoire ballet performances during her life, such as Giselle, Coppelia, and many others. Today, Ana is a ballet teacher, gives lectures, and also does personal coaches of ballet variations, along with her ballet store ‘‘Ana Botafogo Maison’’ and her dance academy ‘‘Escola Âmbar + Ana Botafogo”.

For so many decades, dance was just for skinny and ”ideal” types of women — thankfully — this standard has been changing, and today is possible to see a movement called ‘‘dance for all’’, which makes dance accessible for everyone who wants to do it. ‘‘Everyone should find a style of dance that is most appropriated to your moment, to your age and your body type — dance for all exists’’ says Ana Botafogo, who complements ‘‘Dance is made to produce mental and physical health, physical exercise and for pleasure’’. However, professional dance, particularly classical ballet, tells a different story ‘‘if you intend to be a professional ballerina, there are some boundaries: it´s necessary to take classes from an early age because ballet technique is very specific and demanding [...] classical ballerinas need to have an ideal body type to be able to dance 19th-century ballets". Ana told that these boundaries are exclusively for the professional side of dance, so, besides that, dance can be for everyone who enjoys it: “When you do it with love, when you are willing to break the stigma and overcome the challenges around your body, I think that's legitimate. So dance is for all, we need to find happiness where it is because dance is a huge range of possibilities," concludes Ana.

Today, although we have already evolved greatly, there's still a subject that needs more consideration: the fact that boys are completely minority in dance classes. It's a historical consequence, which made people believe (and some still do believe) that ballet is only for girls and if a boy is interested, automatically means that he is homosexual. None of that is true, obviously, but it's so grounded in our society that ballet boys suffer from bullying and prejudice all the time. Boys weren't encouraged to do dance classes at a younger age, so, for this reason, they were always behind the girls. ‘‘In the old days, when I started my professional career, we had a huge difference between women and men [...] there was an unevenness of the technique between them because boys started [the studies] later than the girls did’’ explains Ana.

Even though some of that culture is still rooted in our society, we can already see a series of changes in people's way of thinking: Bolshoi Ballet, placed in Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil, for example, has several classes exclusively of boys, strictly selected to be part of the academy. ‘‘Brazilian boys who graduated in Bolshoi are now hired in renowned companies [around the world] in leading parts such as soloists and primo ballerinos — so, the universe of men in dance has been changing’’.

Altogether, Ana shares with us ‘‘I was very happy on the stage, I had a beautiful career with many shows. I regret absolutely nothing, [it was] a hard life, a life of much concentration and focus in being a ballerina 24 hours a day, and now dance keeps impacting my life which is [still] full of dance.’

To celebrate this date, Ana Botafogo leaves a very special message to the ballerinas and ballerinos around the world: ‘‘don't falter, you that achieved to maintain yourselves in shape inside the home, which is not an easy task, resist! And be aware that now, every city is different, but if you can go to your academy, to your spaces, go! Because is very important space, the adequate floor, the barre, where we work. And a ballerino is only complete when he is open, when he can run when he can dance, and when he can give himself. So this is my message, we are almost getting total liberty. Let's go forward in perseverance, don't give up — because the art of dance is sublime". 

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The article above was edited by Helena Leite 

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