The lines of a famous poem by Antonio Machado have an alternative version in Colombia, because in Cartagena the road is made not by walking, but by dancing. Since 2016, Vive Bailando (Dance through life) has changed the lives of 750 young people through dance in this Colombian city.
Let’s start with Daniela. She just turned 17; she is the eldest of four children and she has a two-year-old son. Up until August, Daniela’s life was focused on the home: on caring for her siblings and her son, without any other motivation to improve her life.
Only three months have passed and Daniela, in addition to having found a way to express herself, now has an objective: to make a living dancing. This is one of the many aims of the Vive Bailando program: to promote good attitudes and aptitudes among young people. But how is this possible?
Patricia Lagos, Manager of Institutional and Community Relations for Repsol Colombia, affirms that this project is special because it combines cultural and economic objectives. “It trains them for work and boosts urban cultural development while strengthening the local economy, preparing young people for entrepreneurship and supporting the creative industry, i.e., the orange economy,” she explained.
In addition to contributing to the personal and professional growth of each participant, Vive Bailando is a program that serves young people from neighborhoods where victims of the Colombian armed conflict converge: sectors like Bicentenarío and Villa de Aranjuez, which have been characterized by a high degree of intolerance and vulnerability, as well as by a lack of work and educational opportunities. We are working hand in hand with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on this project, stated Lagos.
Like Daniela, Joel is also looking to make a living through dance, although, in his case, the simple act of starting the program has helped him change course. Thanks to Vive Bailando he has been able to get away from gangs: he confessed that his day-to-day life “was about being on the street with the bad guys, going from one neighborhood to the next in search of a fight…” He has now been able to get excited about something and has learned values like honesty and respect.
How does dance change young people’s lives? Jennifer Colpa, the local project manager, notes that this initiative helps to minimize confrontations between gangs by creating a community, and it also creates a neutral space where neighborhoods do not exist. “Before they spent all day out of the house, and the fact that they themselves now recognize that they have found a new purpose for their lives with dance is very important for us.” She adds that they don’t only want to train dancers: the purpose is to “educate people who want to have a more responsible life by supporting abilities like leadership, personal development, and self-esteem.”
“The purpose of Vive Bailando is not just to train dancers. It aims to teach young people about responsibility, leadership, and professional development” Jennifer Colpa, local project manager.
Glenda Lozano, the Coordinator of the UNDP Sustainable Settlements Project, is very satisfied with the results they are achieving. She said that dance has become a “way of life achieved with discipline and effort,” essential qualities for fighting high unemployment in the area, which is over 50% for young people.
The critical moment for the project arrived when eight young people performed at the India Catalina Awards, “the Colombian Oscars,” according to Patricia Lagos. It’s also notable that they have been able to ensure that culture is viewed as part of real economic development, “Not just for dancing, but also for set building, events, marketing… Cartagena holds international conferences and events in which this type of show is highly valued,” she noted.
Dance is contributing to a real change in society. This is a project that contributes to strengthening the social fabric, and promotes entrepreneurship, and it provides a way for these young people to find employment. In fact, talks are now underway with another 42 families for the project to continue. Many young people like Joel and Daniela have found a viable option in dance and they continue working so that Vive Bailando will become a long term presence.