JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Kampala, Uganda is 7,634 miles away from Jacksonville. And for many skilled ballet dancers in Africa the possibility of success seems worlds away. The odds of becoming a ballerina in a country where major ballet companies rarely recruit are slim. Still, there are those who have the courage to dream.
"I didn't know that they could do such ballet in Africa but they can,” said Elisheba Emaasit. “But they can."
Emaasit, 10 is among the more fortunate youth in her home district of Kampala. She’s enrolled in school and the Kampala Dance Studio.
"I see some girls who do ballet on pointe and I want to continue up to that point," said Emaasit.
Emaasit and Savanna Carruthers, 15 are on scholarship at the Florida Ballet School for the summer. They’re far away from all they've known, yet close to what they love.
"On pointe is when you stand on your toe,” said Carruthers. “And I really want to because it's ballet. It's what professional ballet dances do. It's the next level."
Carruthers is taking advantage of an opportunity not many people are afforded.
"Why shouldn't they have the same opportunities if they're willing to work as hard as our kids why shouldn't they have what we have," exclaimed Sarah Piner.
Her passion for making a difference and a conversation with an online friend landed Emaasit and Carruthers in Piner's care.
"She was telling me about the lack of opportunities for kids in Uganda to go to dance and I got a wild idea," said Piner.
Her wild idea turned into an experience of a lifetime for two aspiring ballerinas from Uganda. Piner opened her home to the girls and was able to get them scholarships to the Florida Ballet School for the summer, where her son takes classes. Local ballet shops stepped in and donated leotards, tights and slippers to the girls.
"It makes me feel special," said Emaasit.
“In the beginning of our ballet history typically ballet companies would hire white females between 5'4" and 5'6," a certain body type, a certain look and that was it," said Linda Reifsnyder Jenkins, artistic director for the Florida Ballet. “And you had all of the major ballets looking the same. Time fortunately is changing. The ballet companies are embracing different looks as opposed to that one standard look.”
At her tender age Emaasit understands the obstacles ahead, yet gracefully embraces the dance she must perform.
"No matter what people say, you can do what you think you can do," said Emaasit.
According to Jenkins, dancers from other countries who apply for Visas to attend the school are rarely approved. In fact, Piner had hoped to welcome eight children and a teacher from the Kampala School of Dance to Jacksonville this summer but only Carruthers and Emaasit were approved. Piner hopes to bring more kids and teachers from Africa to the Florida Ballet School next summer.