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Ingrid SilvaWhen Ingrid Silva (pictured) was a little girl in Brazil, she had no plans of becoming a ballerina.

“I’ve never really been in to dance,” the 23-year-old said.

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Growing up in the Dancando Para Nao Dancar favelas or slums in Rio de Janeiro, Silva enjoyed sports, including swimming, since 3 years old. It was at the urging of her mother, though, that Silva even gave ballet a second glance.

“One day my mom just heard they were opening a class for ballet, and she said, ‘Why don’t you try to take ballet?’ and I was, like, Oh, Mom, it’s very hard. I don’t know if I really want to,” Silva said.

After some convincing, Silva began taking ballet classes at a local school at 8 years old, but she didn’t have an instant knack for pirouettes and piques. Silva had to work!

“It was hard for me, because all the girls in my class [started] there when they were very young, like when they were 4 or 5 years old and I was very lost.”

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For the next five years, Silva honed her craft. At 15, she decided to take ballet seriously. After apprenticing with a company, her former dance teacher that suggested she take her talents to the Dance Theater of Harlem. Even though she was interested, Silva had reservations.

“I was very afraid at first,” Silva said. “I’m going to leave my mom, my family, everything, my friends, but at some point I was going to pursue my dream and I was willing to do anything it takes to be where I am now. “

Silva joined the Dance Theater of Harlem’s professional training program, and six months later, she joined the ensemble where she stayed for four years. At 19, Silva joined the dance company.

Although Silva can see her personal growth as a dancer, she maintains a lot of dancers — herself included — can be hard on themselves.

“Sometimes I think dancers are too hard on themselves. We can’t really realize when things are happening. We just want it to be perfect,” Silva said. “I think that’s something really wrong with us. We’re pushed until the edge, and then sometimes you’ll hear your teacher say, ‘No, you’re doing really well. Relax!’”

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With all of her success, on the rough days she wishes her family were closer.

“The biggest challenge is not having my family with me to support me all the time. Because you know when you talk on the phone or see them on [Skype], it’s not the same from when they are with you and you get your mom’s hug, your father’s hug, your brother’s hug. There’s a difference.”

Still, Silva wouldn’t change a thing.

“I never regret, because where I came from, there was really nothing for me to do there. I see the news in Brazil. I see the favelas; there’s such a war there. Now I have a real life. I’ve constructed a life for me.”

Photo Credit: Rachel Neville

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