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Brazil favela ballet dancer gets his American dream

Working in the bar his parents own in the favela, Dyhan Cardoso squeezed in dance practice between cooking, waiting tables, making delivery runs and staffing the cash register

Published: Oct 23, 2023 04:59:12 PM IST
Updated: Oct 23, 2023 05:02:14 PM IST

Brazil favela ballet dancer gets his American dreamBrazilian dancer Dyhan Cardoso dances at the Aglomerado da Serra favela in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Image: Douglas Magno / AFP©

Growing up, Dyhan Cardoso had every reason to quit ballet: the only black boy in a class of white girls, the Brazilian favela kid faced mockery for dancing instead of playing football.

But there was no stopping his raw passion for dance, which has now landed the 19-year-old phenom a contract with one of the premiere US companies, Atlanta Ballet.

"I was always the only boy in class, the only black, the only poor kid," says the wiry dancer, taking a break from practicing his spectacular turns and leaps on the terrace of the brick shack where he lives with his parents and sister in Aglomerado da Serra, one of the largest slums in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

"It was uncomfortable, but I didn't care," he tells AFP.

Cardoso started dancing at six years old, after his sister, Dayse, signed up for ballet classes run by a social project in the community.

He asked if he could join, too.

"The teacher didn't really want to let him, because he was the only boy. But we decided to try it. I could tell he really wanted to," says Cardoso's mother, Heloisa Helena, 57.

"He hasn't stopped to this day."

Cardoso says he immediately fell in love with dance.

"It was a place to play, a way to discharge energy and spend less time on the streets," he says.

Ignoring neighborhood kids who made fun of him for not playing football like other boys, he eventually won an invitation to audition at a dance academy on the "rich side" of the city from a customer at a restaurant where his mother worked as a cook, he says.

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'Surrounded by white girls'

He won a scholarship to study at the academy and started riding his bike to dance class every day before school.

"I was surrounded by little white girls," he remembers.

But his passion shone through.

"If you have a dream, you have to chase it until you make it happen."

Working in the bar his parents own in the favela, Cardoso squeezed in dance practice between cooking, waiting tables, making delivery runs and staffing the cash register.

Then, last month, he auditioned for Atlanta Ballet—not expecting to land a job, but "just to keep evolving," he says.

To his amazement, the company—the oldest continually performing ballet in the United States— invited him to join its ranks.

"Am I dreaming?" he remembers thinking when Atlanta Ballet's director lavished praise on him after his audition, translated from English to Brazilian Portuguese by an interpreter.

Now, the dark-eyed teenager with the lithe, muscular frame is on his way to the United States. He starts his new job later this month.

"He has an exceptional physique, and executes difficult moves with extraordinary quality and beauty," says his longtime instructor, Cuban national Dadyer Aguilera.

Cardoso says he hopes to keep improving as a dancer -- and has a new goal in Atlanta.

"I want to be an example to kids from the favela that they should believe in their dreams and go after them," he says.