How English National Ballet's Isabelle Brouwers Brought Her Love of Dance to an African Orphanage
This past winter, Isabelle Brouwers used her two-week break from English National Ballet to bring dance to the orphaned children at the Spurgeons Academy in Kibera, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Funded by the U.K.-based charity, Global Care, Spurgeons Academy provides an academic and extracurricular education to 400 children in Nairobi, as well as daily essentials like food and water.
After stumbling on a video of the children practicing ballet on Al Jazeera, Brouwers told us that she immediately knew she wanted to help. “It made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up with all the resources to make my dream of becoming a dancer a reality, and I was so passionate about trying to offer a similar opportunity to these children,” she said. Brouwers’ research led her to the Spurgeons Academy, where she learned the children’s dance classes were organized by Anno’s Africa.
Contacting the charity’s representatives in London to arrange to visit the school on her break, Brouwers set about her next task—gathering dancewear for the students. “My wonderful colleagues and artistic director Tamara Rojo at the English National Ballet helped me gather an incredible amount of dancewear and shoe donations to bring with me on my trip as the children lacked many essential dance resources,” Brouwers explained. “[The children] had never seen a pair of pointe shoes before,” she said of their excitement upon seeing her shoes. “They all eagerly peered over each other’s heads trying to get a peek at me demonstrating some pointe work and they were all so surprised and awestruck when they realized they could stand on their toes too.”
Brouwers spent her first week at the school observing the ballet classes, including how the students transformed their dirt-floor classroom into a studio. “Barres are an expensive luxury in this part of the world, so they simply used the wall for support,” she said. “They worked barefoot because ballet shoes are too costly and too delicate to even last one week on the rough earth floor,” Brouwers recalled, adding that laptops were used to play music because the room has no electricity.
Dancing barefoot alongside the students, Brouwers taught a basic ballet barre and center exercises during her second week, describing their eagerness to learn. “I was overwhelmed by the students’ enthusiasm as they listened to the little images I used to clarify corrections and showed them exercises to help them improve their strength and keep growing as aspiring dancers.”
As she prepares for a tour to Belfast performing Giselle, Brouwers says she’s already planning to spend her break next January with the Spurgeons Academy students. “It was truly inspiring for me to see how their eyes twinkled as they described how happy ballet made them feel, and it really allowed me to understand the true enlightening power of this beautiful art form. The experience rekindled an entire new passion for dance within me and really opened my eyes to my incredible luck and fortune.”