I was introduced to Julie through a friend of a friend who owns one of the few dance studios in Medellin, Colombia. Soul Dancers needed qualified teachers to bring dance to the children here. Julie is one of the lucky ones who received free dance lessons through a city of Medellin sponsored program to help poor children through the gift of dance. Julie now teaches for the Soul Dancers charity every Sunday at one of the orphanages and earns a wage to help her with her university education.
As I read her story I was struck by her articulation as she described her life. I was also surprised to see how she describes her life memories with fondness and joy despite her living conditions. It was in contrast to my assumptions that I had made based on the knowledge of her neighbourhood, the notorious Barrio de Pablo Escobar. I also had to negotiate with the Sisters of the orphanage for a suitable time for Julie to teach on Sundays so that she could be home before dark. It is unsafe for her to walk alone at night. The reputation of her neighbourhood is one of unspeakable violence.
Through dance, Julie is on her way to transcend a life of poverty. Her life now is full of options that she would never have had otherwise. I realize that not all children who receive assistance from Soul Dancers will go on to a life and career such as Julie’s however Julie is a model and living testimonial of the possibilities!
Soul Dancers is about giving joy and hope through dance!
This is a translated story.
Who is Julie?
I am a 23 years old girl in constant learning and growth, enjoying the dance that loves moving to the rhythm of music or silence. I feel lucky and happy about my life. I'm strong.
Where were you born and tell me about your family?
I was born in the country of Colombia in the city of Medellin on October 31, 1992. I have always lived with my mother, who was responsible for helping me find what makes me happy, now that I've grown a little bit more I realize that this has been her greater purpose with us her daughters help us find what makes us happy and has done really well, besides looking after us and give us an example; my father is a true artist in what he does, he is a baker and is very delicately to make decorations on desserts and delicious cakes; I inherited from him the courage to take risks, from my mother the power to pursue my dreams and my sister, who is younger, 17 years old, a great strength that reminds me I'm never alone. I always thought that my family is the greatest gift that life has given me, each one of them brings many important things for my being, I feel really loved.
How would you describe your life as a child growing up in your household?
A quiet life filled with much love and support from my parents and my grandparents. I remember my dad came home from work to play with me and read me some stories and in the evenings I was with my mom who was playing with me.
I cannot talk about my childhood without mentioning my sister, her name is Evelin, she became part of me since she was born, at the beginning I was jealous because she took all the attention but then disappeared because my parents always loved us equally to both, I never felt rejected by them, they have been my friends and tried to teach us to express our feelings.
With my sister I always had to play with, with her I learned to share and she accompanied me on each of my nights, all my fears to the darkness disappeared because we slept in the same room in separate beds but there she was, I knew I should not have fear because I had to be strong, now I was who would take care of her. I realized that the family is about sharing and caring for those who are around you, I liked growing up in my home.
How would you describe your life as child growing up in your neighborhood?
Growing up in my neighborhood allowed me to have many friends, I remember several places like kindergarten space in which I enjoyed, elementary school there in first grade I presented my first dance was a “cumbia” that the teacher had prepared, I was very excited, just I remember the day of the presentation and the costumes, the skirt and white blouse as the “cumbiamberas” and my dance partner, I smiled all the time, I think it was one of the sensations I've enjoyed most.
The cultural house was too close and that is a place I loved because we were doing various activities, molding clay, painting with foams and we also had drama classes, once I presented a performance, I had a role in which I was a little angel. I do not remember very well how it was, but I had fun being on stage and saw my parents with my sister in her arms also enjoying the show. Growing up in my neighborhood meant to take advantage of the spaces that are part of it, sometimes I went out alone to play with my dolls and some neighbors.
Growing up in a neighbourhood named after Pablo Escobar, how do you feel about that?
It is sad that a place like my neighborhood has the name of one of the people who did so much damage to the country and city. Pablo Escobar was one of the most powerful drug dealers in the history of Colombia, he wanted power and made life impossible for the state, committed many murders and terrorist acts, it was a time of much fear among citizens. To me it did not touch me because it happened in the '80s, my parents and grandparents tell me stories about it.
My neighborhood has his name because he gave several houses to very poor people and also built a small church and these people in thanking legally named the neighborhood as Pablo Escobar.
Do you have memories of the violent times in your neighbourhood, if yes would you be willing to share some of those stories with me?
I was born in 1992 when the war was over and a year later in 1993 Pablo Escobar was killed in an operation by the armed forces. I have no memories because I was not born yet, but my parents tell me some stories all the time like one that the army came looking for Pablo Escobar thinking that he was hidden in the neighborhood and frightened my parents who were young and had to hide because they came in helicopters and many officers was searching for him, it was a tense situation.
Have you or anybody close to you been harmed or affected by violence? Are you safe at all times today in your neighbourhood?
My parents were young they had to see many violent things like clashes between police and gangs in the neighborhood and not being able to go out at night. After the time of Pablo Escobar some sequels remained, as gangs and small groups of violence carried out their violent acts at night, I just remember once being younger and have heard a couple of shots, my parents were scared but I did not quite understand what happened.
Currently I feel safe in my neighborhood not long ago we witnessed a violent act, I think all of us who live in this area know the past that happened and have been commissioned to change a little history, I feel there is a sense of belonging in this place and that people do not want their children to live what they had to live. That is also responsible schools but we can not deny that this neighborhood remains as a vulnerable place.
What’s the most traumatic situations that you have experienced?
Once they killed an army commander in the neighborhood and the army gave the order to take all the men of the neighborhood to the battalion and my dad was included in those, my dad came home from work and they took him away. He says that that night was terrible because they were put in a dungeon and rained and the water came up to his waist. They reviewed one by one to see if they had anything to do with the murder and those who were suspects were tortured, my father says to have heard them scream, that night was terrible for him.
Do you plan on living elsewhere in your future?
I've always dreamed of traveling, I know it's one of my goals, I would like to know many places in the world for many reasons, but one of my interest is tied up with dance.
Argentina for his studies in Contemporary Dance and some pedagogy, Spain is an interesting place because I would like to study methodology dance for children. I would love one day to go to Belgium and studied Contemporary Dance, to the United States to Juilliard and make some summer courses and finally I am really excited about going to Canada.
I remember last year, ending the year we saw at the Metropolitan Theatre here in Medellin the company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens Montreal with they work Minus One. I loved it , ant they had a very good technical level obviously, but also among its scenic proposal they asked the viewers to go to the stage to dance, I thought that was fantastic, integrating the viewer otherwise in the work, make it part of the same, speak the same language. I remember I had that feeling like when one is small and with so many dreams of dancing. I wanted to be there so much, the music they used was very good and then I put on my trip to Canada and I hope to learn many things there.
I would love to live through times in these places, but always return to Colombia because I believe that the country lacks art and also I want to work here and put my bit to strengthen our dance.
How did you get involved in dance?
As I mentioned earlier my mom always be the benchmark because she was the one who brought me to the dance. She is not a dancer and neither was in her past, but I know that she enjoys it in family celebrations and I also remember when I was very small, she played music in the living room of the house and began to dance and I contagious so we ended the two of us dancing, I believe strongly that she gave me that influence.
I set out to find what made me happy so I could devote myself to it and went through swimming, basketball, theater and one day when I was 10 years old, she took me to the house of culture to dance classes and there I was trapped, I loved getting to know my body in every class and move with the music, but mostly I loved being able to be on the challenge of a performance and feel so much adrenaline and then being there to look and feel succeeding, I can not live without those things. I tried to do them at a time of my life; for cultural reasons I thought it was not possible to work in dance, but then I realized that it is not a common work but is what we wanted the most, and I would like to be as my teachers because with their love they made me loved to dance.
Explain to me what dance has done for you as a girl and young woman?
It has made me see and feel the world differently, there are things in my classes that I can apply everyday like playing to distribute the weight when I am walking, playing to move looking for new spaces between people, I like to stop and watch people going to their workplaces or their homes and then becomes a stage and those people in a choreography, dance has made my life will not be monotonous, it makes me perceptive, allows me to feel different. As a child it was an instrumental in my growth a stage that strengthened me at the time of puberty where so many physical and emotional changes experienced, dance allowed me to recognize and to know my body loving me as I am and enjoying myself, but also to understand that other bodies also pass through the same. As a young woman I feel the dance has taught me not only to be responsible for my body but the bodies of my students I'm an example for them and that makes me reflects and evaluate everything about myself.
How has dance changed your life?
It has made me conscious of things like the possibility of a different language, it helped me strengthen communication with others, allowed me to understand my social and historical environment, makes discover different things about me all the time. It made me a happy person because I can build relationships and learn from others and I really enjoy it.
What would your life look like if you never got the opportunity to dance? What would you be doing? What are the options available to other young girls and women in your neighbourhood perhaps those that never had the opportunity to dance? What are many of the young women that you grew up with doing with their life today?
I think I'd have a flame out, I would feel incomplete if I had not gotten a chance to dance. Perhaps it would be in a company working in the field of corporate communication that is the most common in the communication profession or exercising accounting and finance. The options available for other girls and young women are few, however, my option is to believe in art that is what I want to work with or be very dedicated to studying to earn one scholarship in college, in Colombia opportunities to study at a university are few but I think it's also because people must teach their children to study because is very important not only to make money but also for a personal growth.
What are you doing with your life now? you are attending university? what program are you enrolled in?
I'm at the University of Antioquia studying Bachelor of Dance; I'm in the seventh semester, three left for me to finish. In addition I dance and I teach at an academy called Villa Dance and Maria Inmaculada Orphanage downtown Medellin.
What are you planning to do after you graduate?
I would like to continue my studies in dance, especially in methodology of teaching dance in another country or here in a master's degree offered by the University of Antioquia. I have plans to continue teaching and contribute to the field of dance with some research.
What are your dreams for your future?
I want to be in the history of dance as a person who contributed in this field with her research and the way she moves, I know my dream is not very material, but I learn a lot so that every student who is with me a great learning takes and it has sown something that transforms at least a little in his life. I want to be a teacher at the University of Antioquia and would like someday to have a dance magazine where you can write and reflect about dance.
How do you feel about being involved with the Soul Dancers charity?
I feel very good, very grateful for allowing me to be in that space because they are not only girls who receive help with my classes, to strengthen, meet, have fun and be integrated; but I also learn new ways to teach, learn from each of them, we smile and I really like that Soul Dancers are doing this work because as dance changed my life it can change the life of the girls, I'm sure.
Do you feel that the opportunity to dance can change the lives of many other young girls? How may it change their lives?
It can change the lives of other young people just for the simple fact of knowing and strengthen their self-esteem, knowing that you are valuable, your body is and also that others bodies too, dance can make you come away with the feeling that every day is a goal to conquer a new limit and that is possible to overcome the obstacles of life. Feeling valued, feeling strong, it can makes you move forward with your dreams and to understand that each human being is valuable.