#23 Life in Afghanistan :: Ballerinas in Beat-up ToyotasPosted: October 23, 2013
I’d like to introduce you to a lady who I truly cannot imagine Afghanistan without, a lady who means more to me than she knows, and more than I can tell you. She has inspired, encouraged, pushed, pulled, taught, cared for, reprimanded, put boundaries on, laughed with, cried with, dreamed big with, listened to, prayed for, and blessed, me. This lady, with her husband, has lived in Afghanistan for many years, they have 4 kids, who have lived practically their whole lives in Afghanistan. The things they as a family have sacrificed and the ways in which they have served are incredible. Let me introduce you to this lady whom I am honored to call friend, the beautiful Erin.
Erin once had a crazy vision and idea to start up a dance studio in the middle of dusty Kabul, where ballet and tap are unheard of. She’s built an amazing studio, a community of women and girls. She’s kept it going through some really tough times. She’s inspired the lives of many women and girls, brought smiles to orphans, and changed the lives of countless people. I had the great privilege of working with Erin teaching ballet and tap… until I started fainting and throwing up all over the studio and had to be med-evac’ed… but that’s a story for another day.
Erin’s husband Ken wrote the following piece, and it reflects the heart of Kabul Dance Studio so well that I simply had to share it with you. Because in my mind Kabul without KDS would not be Kabul at all.
Security guards look out over a line of cars entering the International School of Kabul campus, many ex-Mujahidin, as armored cars wait their turn to pass inspection. SUVs full of bodyguards mingle with the beat up compact cars and vans of aid workers. Melting snow leaves city streets sloppy with the sludge of rubble and garbage. News events blur into a never-ending stream of destruction and violence, as one security camera captures a gunman mowing down patrons inside a Jalalabad bank. The constant Afghans have come to depend upon is pain.
Late one night driving home from the Kabul Airport, I saw an entire family begging after dark in the middle of the street. Passing them I was taken off guard in utter shock. My kids were asleep in the back seat of our car while their kids stared with glazed eyes through the pollution and glare of oncoming traffic, hoping for a few coins from the merciful. Our driver told us they come from rural areas of Pakistan looking for a better life and find only misery.
Yet converging on the Afghan people is a group of volunteers and paid professionals who have left a normal life in the West and banded together in an epic battle between pain and promise. Like planting an evergreen seed with full confidence in the desert sand, the Kabul Dance Studio sprang up in the most unlikely place. Here the rich, poor, literate, illiterate, Muslim, Christian, Pashto, Hazara, foreigner, humanitarian, diplomat, old, and the young shed their street shoes at the door of the Kabul Dance Studio and enter into a place where the beauty of movement, music, art, and the human spirit find a place in the sky to soar.
Armored Land Rovers or beat-up Toyotas end where ballerinas and tap choreography begins. Dancers tumble out of their cars and up the three flights of stairs to the Kabul Dance Studio where they put on their tights and tutus and go to work on plies and shuffles. The violence of war, terrorist plots, and dismal living conditions cannot keep hope indoors or hold down the sound of the rhythmic metal plates beneath the shiny black tap shoes.
In its third year of operation, The Kabul Dance Studio had over 100 students and was still growing. Young girls comment that they never thought they could be a ballerina in Afghanistan but marvel as they sharpen their steps for our upcoming dance recital, Climb Every Mountain, taking center stage in a globally followed war-zone. What a joy and privilege to explain the musical, The Sound of Music, to students who are familiar with explosions and bombings but unfamiliar with such well-known classics.
Learning the Art of Dance is an unstoppable expression of freedom in spirit that transcends political, geographic, and social boundaries. One of our volunteer photographers had to excuse herself from the Studio’s ballet classes at a local orphanage; she became overwhelmed with emotion and stepped out for a moment, unable to continue taking pictures. The image of those little girls, shaved heads to limit lice infestations, stepping gracefully through ballet movements could move a mountain. I can’t wait for the look on their faces when they are presented with the beautifully elegant white dance costumes that will replace their clothing for the dance recital. They will dance to “Edelweiss” in pure white, incarnating the song and demonstrating with dignity the true nature of the innocence that should be afforded to every child.
And with them, girls and women of every background and privilege will join. The Kabul Dance Studio is a weapon more powerful than these dusty mountains have ever seen: unapologetic hope. The Studio, with its head held high, will continue to stand against oppression, fear, and years of war as we fight to destroy despair with the beauty of artistic movement for every girl found willing in Kabul.
This is part of the 31 Day series