Ballet Stars

How English National Ballet's Isabelle Brouwers Brought Her Love of Dance to an African Orphanage

This past winter, Isabelle Brouwers used her two-week break from English National Ballet to bring dance to the orphaned children at the Spurgeons Academy in Kibera, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Funded by the U.K.-based charity, Global Care, Spurgeons Academy provides an academic and extracurricular education to 400 children in Nairobi, as well as daily essentials like food and water.

After stumbling on a video of the children practicing ballet on Al Jazeera, Brouwers told us that she immediately knew she wanted to help. "It made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up with all the resources to make my dream of becoming a dancer a reality, and I was so passionate about trying to offer a similar opportunity to these children," she said. Brouwers' research led her to the Spurgeons Academy, where she learned the children's dance classes were organized by Anno's Africa.


Contacting the charity's representatives in London to arrange to visit the school on her break, Brouwers set about her next task—gathering dancewear for the students. "My wonderful colleagues and artistic director Tamara Rojo at the English National Ballet helped me gather an incredible amount of dancewear and shoe donations to bring with me on my trip as the children lacked many essential dance resources," Brouwers explained. "[The children] had never seen a pair of pointe shoes before," she said of their excitement upon seeing her shoes. "They all eagerly peered over each other's heads trying to get a peek at me demonstrating some pointe work and they were all so surprised and awestruck when they realized they could stand on their toes too."

Brouwers spent her first week at the school observing the ballet classes, including how the students transformed their dirt-floor classroom into a studio. "Barres are an expensive luxury in this part of the world, so they simply used the wall for support," she said. "They worked barefoot because ballet shoes are too costly and too delicate to even last one week on the rough earth floor," Brouwers recalled, adding that laptops were used to play music because the room has no electricity.

Dancing barefoot alongside the students, Brouwers taught a basic ballet barre and center exercises during her second week, describing their eagerness to learn. "I was overwhelmed by the students' enthusiasm as they listened to the little images I used to clarify corrections and showed them exercises to help them improve their strength and keep growing as aspiring dancers."

As she prepares for a tour to Belfast performing Giselle, Brouwers says she's already planning to spend her break next January with the Spurgeons Academy students. "It was truly inspiring for me to see how their eyes twinkled as they described how happy ballet made them feel, and it really allowed me to understand the true enlightening power of this beautiful art form. The experience rekindled an entire new passion for dance within me and really opened my eyes to my incredible luck and fortune."

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

Keep reading... Show less