Leap of Faith: How a Teen Ballerina Landed Dream Job at Dance Theatre of Harlem

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(Image: Ingrid Silva Instagram)

In 2007, when Ingrid Silva moved from Brazil to New York she was 18 years old, she did not know anyone in the city or speak English. But despite being without her family, she overcame the language barrier, completed a rigorous training program and landed her dream job as a professional ballet dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), the first major ballet company to prioritize black dancers.

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While some kids start studying ballet at 5 or 6 years old, Silva began at 8 years old. “I was 8 years old and involved in many activities. I was swimming because I have bronchitis and I tried gymnastics. Then my mom encouraged me to try Ballet. It was pretty new to me but she took me to a ballet test in a studio near my home and later I started dancing for Mangueira at Dançando Para Não Dançar, a program that provides classical ballet training to kids and teens that can’t afford dance classes.

Now at 25 years old, Ingrid is living the “good life”—performing pirouettes and pique turns in countries around the world–Israel, Italy and Baltimore, to name a few.

With only a handful of black swans around the world, Black Enterprise caught up with Silva to learn about her experiences in ballet.

Prior to ballet you were involved heavily in activities, tell us about the AHA moment that inspired you to take ballet seriously?

When I was 10 years old, I saw my friends succeeding in ballet, getting scholarships and going to study at other schools of dance. So I decided to take dance seriously. But when I saw Ana Botafogo, a major ballerina in Brazil, perform–I said to myself I’ll be doing what she’s doing, that’s beautiful.

Eventually, I quit swimming and dedicated 100% of my time to ballet.

How did you learn to speak English?

It was very hard at first, but I learned English by having a conversation with people. One of my best friends, Ashley Murphy, who also dances at the DTH, invited me to her home in Louisiana during my first Christmas in the US. Her loving family welcomed me with open arms. Later on I went to school for a week but I got bored because I was not making progress. I quit school and decided to learn on my own. It took me about a year but by listening to music, watching movies and reading books, I learned quickly.

Now, my ballet master at the DTH makes jokes about me, he always says, “When I first met you, you didn’t know a word in English. Now I can’t get you to shut up.” I’m happy that ballet language is universal; otherwise it would be one more challenge for me.

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