Teaching ballet in Burma

August 16, 2012

Ballet News

Teaching ballet in Burma

Ex- Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer Robert Gravenor recently spent a couple of months travelling independently in Burma. The photographs you see here were taken while Gravenor taught ballet to the local children at Phaung Daw Oo School in Mandalay (central Burma). Gravenor says, “this school is run from foreign charity funds and has over 6500 underprivileged students. The funding supply runs out in 2 years time and they are desperate for support.

Most of the children in the photos were orphaned by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. I had 20 students in the class and they all live and study at the school in very basic conditions.

The children had never seen or heard of ballet in their lives.

I hadn’t expected to teach and arrived totally unprepared, so I used an interpreter initially with lots of miming! I was amazed at how enthusiastic and grateful the children were. They have virtually no material possessions, no xboxes etc, yet they are happy. It really was a joy to see! Teaching at PDO was such an incredible, moving experience that I will never forget. The kids loved being introduced to ballet, classical music, creativity and exercise. I really hope to go back to teach again very soon.”

Gravenor has captioned each of the photographs below, and all of the pictures were taken by him, except where he appears in them (those photographs are taken by Isi Dhamma, a teacher at the school and Bethany Mitchell).  Gravenor was also assisted by an interpreter, Ei Ei Phyo Lwin, a young teacher and former student at Phaung Daw Oo School.

ballet children

Taking a cooler option: Ballet class on the roof in the evening. The regular power failures brought the ceiling fans to a standstill indoors, not much fun when the temperature reaches 40+ degrees celsius. We took to the roof to chill-out. Meet Kirsty my adopted daughter. She has never danced before yet has a lovely line. Innate talent (and a fantastic teacher of course!)

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I put the wrong music on here and we ended up doing a bit of a boogie to some funk. I only had one working computer speaker so it was nothing like a company pianist.
The white makeup is traditional Burmese ‘Thanaka’. It is made from a tree bark and the boys are wearing it as sunscreen.

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We used the windowsill as a ballet barre. The boys took to it straight away. They are way more flexible than I ever was!

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These young guys are twin brothers performing their own synchronised choreographic routine.

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No need to warm up in that heat so lets move straight on to the stretching…

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I tried to keep the classes simple but some of the young ones were hungry to learn more complicated steps.
When this young boy saw me demonstrate jumps badly from the concrete floor, he effortlessly showed me how they should really be done.

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Welcome to The Royal Burmese Ballet Company – the very first in the country!

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Stretching after a hard day’s work. I was exhausted at this point and collapsed in a heap after taking the photo. This guy just kept on smiling.

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Going for a full 180 degree penche with a smile!

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Four students trying to impress their strict ballet mistress…

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This is the boy’s upper body work out programme, and a rush of blood to the head…

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This young chap could do everything and anything ballet. I was absolutely amazed at his level of talent. Given a few more years training he could become a star.

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Sunset on the roof and time to practise pas de deux.

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This shot is not posed. We were all just having some fun, dancing away while the sun goes down.

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Rudolf & Margot?

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Kirsty performs her elegant arabesque.

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The children were enthusiastic, energetic, focused and a joy to teach. And of course they absolutely adored their teacher! :-)

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5 Responses to “Teaching ballet in Burma”

  1. Ballet News Says:

    Kathryn Andrews Nagelberg said : very cool, something those kids (and the teacher) will never forget

  2. Ballet News Says:

    Audra Agajanian said : This is wonderful!

  3. Ballet News Says:

    Jessica George said : This is really wonderful!

  4. Ballet News Says:

    Ash Mukherjee said : Love this! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Victoria Looseleaf Says:

    Wow – this is beautiful. What a gift for all of you. Bravo!