I recently had the good fortune to learn about Ballerinas For The Environment (BFE). Here is an interview with founder Cinthia Conlon.
1. What prompted you to start BFE?
I love ballet, I love natural sciences, and I felt the need to forge a career path that would allow me to pursue both. I was in my late teens when I learned my hips would prevent me from having a long-term career as a professional ballerina, so choosing a university route seemed to be the next logical step. I wanted to pursue something hard, something that required a lot of math because I wanted a challenge to make my career switch feel worth it. About two and half years ago, I came up with this idea to mesh the worlds of art and science for the purpose of spreading environmental education and awareness to a broader audience. After spending more than half of my life immersed in the world of dance, I understand how easy it is lose touch with current issues; when I was dancing, I didn’t stop to consider where the timber for the wooden barres and floors came from, or what resources went into making my pointe shoes and leotards. Considering details like this make me realize that this art form takes a toll on the all-encompassing ecosystem. I want BFE to increase environmental awareness in performers everywhere. We embody grace on stage, why not in real life?
2. Describe your current projects and/or areas of focus.
We are currently working on a project in Ecuador that focuses on preventing the spread of waterborne diseases through humanely reducing the stray animal population (SARP, Ecuador). Clean water is a basic human right, and in developing nations like Ecuador it is not a readily available commodity. I am inspired by people who have devised inexpensive ways to consume clean water (like the water-purifying tea bag that surfaced in 2010 and pocket water testing kits) to fight the issue of water contamination from an alternative angle. In most developing nations, the stray animal population is overwhelmingly large due to a lack of responsible pet ownership and animal control regulations. The goal of SARP, Ecuador is to provide free spays, neuters, vaccines and foster services to stray animals, thereby reducing their collective potential to breed and spread diseases. When unfixed cats and dogs are abandoned, it risks uncontrolled breeding, animal cruelty and the spread of diseases to humans via direct contact (i.e. biting) or indirectly through feces. Ecuador is located right on the equator, meaning it is located in the tropics where the climate is generally wet and warm. Scientific evidence suggests that bacteria like E.coli thrive in wet and warm environments and can easily contaminate water sources when animals eliminate waste in or near water. If we can humanely reduce the total stray animal population, I believe we have a good chance of reducing common bacterial contaminants in Ecuadorian drinking water over time.
3. How do you promote your cause and what role does ballet play for BFE?
We promote our cause through the performances we organize. The process of coordinating a benefit show allows our performers, volunteers and audience members to become informed about our cause and why it matters. Earlier this year, we held two benefit shows featuring Ecokenisis Dance Company and ballet dancers from the community, which helped us raise the funds to initiate SARP, Ecuador before the target date. The performers’ minutes of glory on stage translate into rehabilitating stray animals for the sake of clean water. We also send out a quarterly newsletter to keep our supporters up to date on SARP, Ecuador’s progress.
4. What is BFE’s vision for future endeavors and projects?
Our vision is to spread environmental awareness in a graceful manner, provide educational outreach opportunities to communities in need and instill a sense of good environmental stewardship in performers and pedestrians alike. It would be amazing if BFE influenced more performers and their fans to “live green.” In regard to SARP, Ecuador, sustainability is our ultimate goal; in order to ensure treatment for stray animals, we are seeking out a veterinary outreach group that is willing to hold temporary free clinics in Ecuador on an annual basis. Creating a connection like this would truly help the state of the environment, as well as give veterinary students an opportunity to practice rural medicine.
5. How can others get involved?
Our last benefit show of the season is coming up on November 16 in Berkeley and we can always use more hands to help things run smoothly. If people would like to perform or volunteer for future events, I invite them to visit our website and send us an email. If people are interested in joining the BFE team, we welcome new talent to brainstorm and execute ideas with for future projects in the US and abroad. Other than this, plant a tree, recycle, reduce, reuse and encourage your friends to do the same. BFE is about taking initiative to protect and conserve the ecosystem that we are all a part of.
For more information on BFE’s upcoming benefit show, click here.