This week, all eyes are turned towards Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian coastal city hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. But beyond Rio’s tropical beaches and soaring, mountainous views lay its infamous favelas—impoverished urban communities that are nevertheless vibrant with culture. While many of the Olympic athletes’ inspiring stories are coming to light, so has the story of a young Brazilian ballet student, whose commitment to dance is nothing less than extraordinary.
His name is Luis, and he’s one of several people profiled in Google’s Beyond the Map project, an interactive web series that goes deep inside Rio’s favelas. A resident of Complexo do Alemão, a poor neighborhood where ballet is not considered masculine, Luis secretly started taking ballet lessons to avoid being made fun of (he was even afraid to tell his own mother at first). Once word got out, he was relentlessly ridiculed—one schoolmate even tried to stab him. But with his local teacher’s help, he landed a coveted spot at the school of Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro.
The film below captures Luis’ raw talent and dedication, his face beaming with happiness after finishing a series of pirouettes. It’s an important reminder to appreciate the pure joy ballet brings, and how lucky we are to return to the barre every day. Everyone else may be focused on their favorite Olympic athletes, but we are rooting for Luis!