Lesson Plans

Documenting Stories of Resilience: Ballet in Brazil’s Favelas

A group of young ballerinas from one of the most violent favelas in Rio de Janeiro use dance to strive for a brighter future. Image by Frederick Bernas and Rayan Hindi. Brazil, 2018.

A group of young ballerinas from one of the most violent favelas in Rio de Janeiro use dance to strive for a brighter future. Image by Frederick Bernas and Rayan Hindi. Brazil, 2018.


1. Make a list of your favorite hobbies. Pick one that you would do every day if you could.

2. Poll:

  • How many students would be interested in exploring their hobbies as potential careers? Why?
  • How many students need to leave their homes to explore their hobbies?

3. Discuss: Imagine that your community became unsafe, and that your families no longer wanted you to go outside. How might that impact your life? How would you respond?

4. Reflect: If your community became unsafe, and you were unable to leave, how would you navigate your life differently from the way you do now? How could you still connect to your hobbies? What would you do or create to help spread the word that your community needs support?

5. What is “resilience,” and what might it look like to be resilient in a community that has become unsafe? Click here for the Merriam Webster dictionary definition of “resilience.”

Introducing the Lesson:

This lesson examines how film is used to explore the stories of dancers who live in Brazil’s favelas, which are highly populated neighborhoods in the country’s capital city of Rio de Janeiro. The stories were captured as part of a short documentary film by Frederick Bernas and Rayan Hindi for VICE News.

"With an average 20 incidents of weapons fired every day in Rio, last year saw more than 100 police deaths – as well as hundreds more civilians, many of whom are caught in the crossfire of confrontations in their local areas,” write Bernas and Hindi in an article accompanying their film.


  • What do you think is causing violence in the favelas?
  • How could violence in these neighborhood impact the children who live there?
  • How do you think the children will respond to the violence? What actions might they take that demonstrate resilience?

Watch and Analyze:

As you watch the film, use the questions below to check your predictions, and to analyze why you think that the journalists chose to depict this story using film.

1. Analyzing the story:

  • What is causing violence in Brazil’s favelas?
  • How does violence impact the lives of the dancers?
  • What do the dancers say they need to be able to achieve their dreams, and why?
  • In what ways are the dancers exhibiting resilience?

2. Analyzing the structure:

  • What images and moments stand out to you from the film, and why?
  • Which people interviewed in the film most stick with you? What did they say or do that connected with you?
  • Why do you think the journalists chose to tell this story?
  • Why do you think the journalists decided to use film to tell this story? How would it have been different if they chose to use writing, photography, or another medium?

3. Making a connection:

  • How is your life similar to and different from that of the dancers in the favela?
  • At the end of the film, Tuany says that the girls will leave her dance studio "as people who are able to transform their lives. And they won't be afraid to say they're from the favela because they were nurtured by it." Reflect on your own home. What is difficult about the place that you come from? How does it nurture you?

Extension Activities:

Option 1. Drawing and Collage: Visualize a dance studio for the ballerinas

Approximately 14 minutes into the film, the dancers describe their ideal dance studio. Use their description to create a visual of their dream studio. Feel free to use any medium you like: collage, paint, pencil, etc. Share your studios with the ballerinas and journalists by taking a photo of your project and emailing it to education@pulitzercenter.org.

Option 2. Communicating Through Dance

The film shows many clips of Tuany and the girls warming up and dancing. How can you interpret their movement symbolically? Think, for example, about the following clips: a student performs a turn in her kitchen (5:52-6:04), the girls do a lift on the site of their imagined future dance studio (13:27-13:36), the final shot (16:26-16:34)

Work with a small group to choreograph a dance that communicates the theme of resilience. Practice and film a performance. You can share your dance with the ballerinas and journalists as a message of solidarity by emailing the video to education@pulitzercenter.org.

Option 3. Researching Violence in the Favelas

Why are the favelas in Rio de Janeiro so dangerous? Do some research to find out, and consider: what could be done to make these communities safer? How could you and your community help? Present your findings and recommendations to the class.

Educator Notes: 

Common Core Standards


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

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