DANCE

Down Syndrome youths join Spain’s National Ballet for a day

Head of world-famous dance company is enthusiastic about initiative to boost youngsters’ self-esteem

Youths with Down Syndrome rehearsed with the dance company BNE in Madrid.
Youths with Down Syndrome rehearsed with the dance company BNE in Madrid.Luis Sevillano

“The best day of my life!” was how some of the young visitors described Spain’s National Ballet (BNE) rehearsal. But they weren’t just there to look.

On an initiative introduced by the Gmp Foundation, which supports people with learning disabilities, 20 Down Syndrome teenagers dressed in black trained alongside the dance professionals for a day.

The visit gave the dancers the chance to take a break from their punishing six-hour-a-day training schedule

“We worked as one,” says Antonio Najarro, the BNE’s director, who was clearly excited by the event. “It was us who learned from the experience, because we spend every day rehearsing in front of the mirror seeking perfection in both our bodies and our movements. These guys are totally uninhibited, they dance, they’re spontaneous… They remind us of what we are.”

For the BNE, a state company that routinely tours the world with its stylized flamenco shows, the encounter generated a potent mix of energy and emotion in the company’s rehearsal rooms, located in the Matadero cultural center in Madrid.

And Francisco Fernández, the director of the Gmp Foundation, considers the visit just the beginning for Emotions – the name of a project supporting Down Syndrome youngsters, for which the BNE is staging a benefit gala at Madrid’s Teatros del Canal called Alento and choreographed by Najarro.

Emotions

The goal of Emotions is to promote the emotional wellbeing of people with Down Syndrome. Both Najarro and Fernández stress that these individuals struggle with low self-esteem often triggered by a feeling of marginalization.

Najarro insists there’s no better way of combating this than through dance, which helps to channel and express emotions. Certainly, the rehearsal was a resounding success. Many of the youngsters had hardly been able to sleep the night before due to excitement. But they turned up on cue, kitted out in their black shirts emblazoned with the words: I can dance at your side.

Only six of the 20 youngsters at the rehearsal will appear on stage at the gala. These six belong to Maite León’s Psico Ballet and will perform their own short choreography. The rest of the show will be performed by the BNE, which is keen to participate in further projects aimed at social inclusion despite their heavy schedule – currently, they are rehearsing four different ballets while preparing a new choreography for December 2017.

But the visit gave the dancers the chance to take a break from their punishing six-hour-a-day training schedule and culminated in a spontaneous flamenco party in which the youngsters got up to try their hands and feet at bulerías.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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