Interview: Caroline from Ballet Rwanda

Carolina from Ballet Rwanda
As much as I love Rwanda, it’s not really a place with a huge focus on the arts which is a bit frustrating. But there are lots of amazing people working towards developing arts and culture in this country and Caroline is one of them. She’s been working hard to promote ballet in Rwanda and has some grand plans ahead. Follow the Ballet Rwanda Facebook page or visit their website for more info on ballet or if you’re feeling generous, take a look at their fundraising campaign and make a contribution that will support an amazing new art space in Kigali.

Can you give a bit of information on yourself and your background in ballet?

I am “originally” from New Jersey, but I grew up all around the place – New York, California, Portugal – my family liked the gypsy lifestyle. I’ve always been a dancer, begging my parents to let me take ballet classes when I was 4 years old. I was immediately hooked. I danced at Alvin Ailey in New York, but stopped when I decided to go to college. Once I finished college, though, I realized I had not yet fulfilled this passion I had for ballet. I dug out an old essay I wrote in high school about starting a ballet school in Iraq and got re-inspired to do something crazy. A few weeks later I heard about a couple I knew moving to Rwanda. The rest is history…

Can you tell us a bit about Ballet Rwanda?

Ballet Rwanda started as an idea in 2008. I landed in Kigali in 2009, and opened a small studio in town with $10,000 I had raised through family and friends, walk-a-thons, and drink-a-thons (good mix). My grande plan was to “start a ballet school” and provide child with a creative resource. Originally I expected to be working with mostly Rwandan kids from lower income families, but as soon as the word got out a ballet school had opened, every expat came by. Within the first week I had 25 students. After the first six months, we had a performance with over 50 dancers and a sold out show of over 300.

It’s important to me that I keep some sort of demographic balance, however. Currently, we at capacity with 120 students. It’s pretty evenly half Rwandese and half internationals. Within the Rwandese, a third of them are on scholarships – not paying a cent for class, supplies, or transport to and from.

Is the studio a for-profit business?

Ballet Rwanda is a business, and I want to keep it that way. Rwanda looks a lot kinder on businesses and I believe that it’s a better addition to the country rather than an NGO or non-profit. However, we’re socially motivated and I don’t turn down any student who can’t afford to pay.

What was the process for setting up the dance studio?

The biggest challenge is finding space – this is something we’ve struggled a lot with in the last three years – we’re currently in our third attempt at a “studio” and are moving again in January. Office space is ridiculously overpriced and I am not interested in spending thousands and thousands of dollars on rent.

Registering a business and getting a TIN number is pretty easy – RDB and RRA do actually make things pretty simple, in my opinion. Dealing with inconsistent protocol, keeping everything in order, and actually running a successful business – that’s a whole different story! But so far, we’re doing pretty well.

Is ballet something that is new to Rwanda? How have your performances been received?

Ballet is pretty new to Rwanda. There have been two other women I have heard of that have come through and taught for a short period of time in a more informal manner. I even heard there was a Belgian woman here in the ‘70s. But, there has never been a formal classical ballet school in Rwanda. I’ve done a lot of demonstrations when trying to explain what it is I do! That being said, it’s been incredibly well received. The children are naturally gifted as dancers and come to class eager. We’ve done 6 performances in 3 years and all have been sold out with between 300-500 attendees. Those are so much fun – the kids have a great time, I have a nervous break down, and the audience loves it.

What’s on the horizon for Ballet Rwanda?

Actually, a lot. I’ve been working on expanding for all of 2012, and in January 2013 we will open in a new building as City Arts. I’m trying to establish an arts center in Kigali – one where anyone can come and share, explore, or collaborate with any creative medium. We’re starting with yoga, creative writing, dance, and film, but hopefully will add music and culinary arts down the line. Be on the lookout for a grand opening party in January!

How do people become a part of City Arts?

We are actually in the middle of a big fundraising campaign – we’ve got 20 days left to raise $13,000. We need to raise this money to move into the new building and pimp it out. If you are interested and want to donate, please do! Also, sharing it with your friends or family is a big help too. If we don’t hit our goal, all of the money raised goes back to the donor. Here’s the link for that: http://indiegogo.com/balletrwanda

If you’re interested in becoming a part of City Arts, I’d love to hear from you! Email me at cjp@cityartskigali.com. We’re specifically looking to hire an experienced, qualified art teacher.

When’s the next performance?!

Ballet Rwanda will be staging its fourth production of The Nutcracker on Friday, December 7th! (7pm at CCR in Gaculiro.) It’s going to be a great show – we started rehearsals two weeks ago already and have ordered new costumes. Come! And bring your friends!

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.