Tag Archives: Ecuador

Can Ballet Save the Environment?


Spring Benefit Show by Jay Erker

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.

Rex prerehabilitation Fondo Animal

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.

Rex Adopted FondoAnimal

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.

Ecokinesis Dance Co. Dancer by Dan Perlea Photography

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.

Quito, Ecuador: Highlights From the Miami City Ballet Tour

When I think about what it was like to visit Quito, memories come in flashes: smooth, brown faces of the people contrasted against the vibrant colors of textiles, brighter and bolder than any I’d seen elsewhere. Elfin children staring with wise, dark eyes.








And gold…

Although Quito did not have the bloody, golden past of neighboring Peru you wouldn’t know it walking into the Church of the Society of Jesus (La Compañía de Jesús). Every square inch of the altar’s interior, from floor to ceiling, is richly coated with gold leaf.








The church is one of many colonial churches, chapels, convents and picturesque plazas within the historic center of Quito, one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. Quito derives its name from the Quitus, a tribe from the Quechua civilization who inhabited the region eons before Spanish conquest. It had been a capital of the Seyris and the Incas before it became a Spanish city in 1541.

A stroll through the area leads down narrow streets dotted with colorful homes. Another popular stop is the Presidential Palace. There we took photos with the uniformed guards who stand at attention outside the front entrance, much like their English counterparts.









Back out on the streets local artisans set up stalls full of blankets, sweaters and other woven goods in a kaleidoscope of colors. We learned that many of them live high in the surrounding hills; they trek up and down these hills each day with their wares strapped to their backs.









Overlooking it all with outstretched arms is one of the most iconic structures of Quito – a giant (135 ft.) aluminum Madonna located atop El Panecillo, a hill in the middle west of the city. She was built in 1976 by the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras. Although she is visible from most of the city of Quito her size is best appreciated up close.









Quito was well worth the journey. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see a country that is so different from ours. I hope to return one day to see it as it is now. Minus the oxygen tanks.


Touring Ecuador with Miami City Ballet, Part I.

Quito, Ecuador










The pre-travel pep talk they gave us before we left for Ecuador was full of warnings: don’t brush your teeth with tap water (use bottled), don’t eat any uncooked fruits or vegetables and for God’s sake keep your mouth closed when you take a shower. This was the first visit to a third world country for many of us and the company needed us to stay healthy.

Still, who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador? That’s what I thought until they informed us that we were going to have to take malaria pills to prepare for our trip to Ecuador. As I gulped down the first pill I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I soon forgot all about it. Nothing beats the excitement of going on tour with your very own shiny, new tour case with your name boldly emblazoned on its pristine surface… it’s the dancer’s equivalent of having your name in lights (off-off-off Broadway, of course).

But Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet (far above the sea level we were used to in Miami) presented an entirely new challenge. The simple formula of higher altitude=less oxygen meant trouble – and we were performing Concerto Barocco, one of George Balanchine’s most strenuous and aerobic ballets. Oh yes. During this ballet the corps dancers never once leave the stage.

In the spirit of proactive thinking, oxygen tanks were installed in the wings on either side of the stage. Even though they told us not to worry, knowing that there were oxygen tanks waiting in the wings did little to reassure anyone. Nor was it ever explained how we were supposed to get oxygen if we really did need it. Instead they remained a troubling reminder of all that could go wrong.

Though we all did our best to be careful, many dancers ended up with digestive issues – and all those desperate runs to the bathroom made performing logistically complicated and frequently interrupted rehearsals. Some dancers were forced to sit them out altogether, waiting until the stomach cramps passed.

Concerto Barocco:

The night of our first performance finally arrived… along with heightened anxiety. We did what dancers always do – went through the motions as if it were any other night: warm up, put on makeup and costumes, warm up again backstage, practice tricky moves onstage until final curtain call, breathe, pray.

The music started and so did we. Somehow things always work out once the music starts. Some primal part of the brain takes over and you begin. One count at a time. This move and then the next. The music for Concerto Barocco (J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins) is particularly beautiful and inspires full-out dancing with abandon. I’ve always felt like it brings out any dancer’s beauty.


Halfway through the first movement, the corps dancers move in patterns around the stage, striking bold piqué arabesques as they circle one another. Music mimics movement, reaching to a crescendo with each arabesque. It is our one moment during the ballet to shine, front and center.

A flurry of notes announced my moment had arrived. My feet swept me into my place, front and center. I struck out into my bold arabesque. This was my moment to shine center stage.

The Universe had other plans. In the middle of my bold strike, my supporting foot slipped. Like I had piquéd onto a banana peel. In a split second I ended up on my hands and knees. Front and center.

My shining moment.

The heat of shame and humiliation flooded my body as I quickly picked myself up. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I swept back into place and continued dancing, my limbs shaky from shock, willing myself to finish while stifling the urge to cry.

The 2nd movement was my chance to recuperate a little; in this section the corps creates a series of tableaus, each dancer striking a pose and holding it for long periods. I caught my breath enough to calm down completely before the 3rd and final movement, an all-out no-holds-barred aerobic section with no less than a million hops on pointe, jumps and turns. And it’s fast – so fast it’s almost hard to whip your body around quickly enough to keep up.

But keep up we did and finished with a flourish, drenched in sweat to the point that our white leotards were transparent in multiple places. My chest felt cold, so cold. I am sure this was due to oxygen depletion. It was the only time I ever wished the audience would stop clapping, for Pete’s sake.

Immediately after the curtain went down, Edward Villella, our Artistic Director, came backstage to talk to me. He gently reminded me that falling happens, even to the best dancers, which I found heartening. His support meant a lot in that very humbling moment.

I am happy to report that my love for Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins was not in any way diminished.