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From a Manila slum emerges an unlikely ballerina

December 27, 2012 • Entertainment


In this photo taken Nov. 25, 2012, Filipino slum dwellers Jessa Balote, center, and Jamil Montebon, top, practice with other students during a class at Ballet Manila at the Philippine capital. Aside from well-off students, the school picks scholars among kids living in slum areas of Manila and enroll them at their dance scholarship program where they are given a monthly stipend. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The ghetto called Aroma reeks of putrefying trash collected by its residents for recycling. Half-naked children with grimy faces play on muddy dirt roads lined by crumbling shanties of tarpaulin walls, cracked tin roofs and communal toilets.

From this Manila slum of garbage collectors emerged an unlikely Cinderella: ballerina Jessa Balote who at the age of 10 was plucked out of her grubby life by a ballet school to prepare her for a life on stage.

In four years since her audition in 2008, Jessa has performed in various productions, including Swan Lake, Pinocchio, Don Quixote and a local version of Cinderella. She rode a plane for the first time in August to compete in the 2012 Asian Grand Prix ballet competition for students and young dancers in Hong Kong, where she was a finalist.

The 14-year-old Jessa’s unlikely success is as much a celebration of a unique effort by the Philippines’ most famous prima ballerina, Lisa Macuja, to help slum kids of Manila by providing them a scholarship and classical ballet training for six to seven years.

More than a quarter of the Southeast Asian nation’s 94 million people live in abject poverty, many in sprawling and unsanitary shanty towns like Aroma in the capital city. Despite a reecent economic upturn, there are not enough full-time jobs. Education skills are lacking and incomes are low. At least 3,000 Filipinos leave their families behind Login to read more

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