Transformación Ballet: Dancing Children Off the Streets
By Brooke Fryer
On the shores of Lake Atitlán in southwestern Guatemala lies the picturesque town of Panajachel. For hundreds of years, the city has attracted visitors for its beautiful surroundings, including steep volcanoes and lush green forested mountains. The blue, soft rippling waters of Lake Atitlán, labeled one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, add to the breathtaking scenery. Here, nestled on the outskirts of the city by the water, is a tiny ballet school that’s doing big things for the children that live here.
Known as one of Lake Atitlán’s most popular traveler cities, Panajachel is always a bustling mix of tourists. But the residents - the people of Panajachel - are what makes this city truly one of a kind. Women go by with their brightly colored and intricately detailed traditional Mayan dresses, children run and laugh, busy vendors line the streets. As a visitor, you can feel the warmth and bask in the comforting small town feel.
While traveling through Panajachel, Angelino’s founder, Kirk, and the Where Coffee Takes You crew learned of an extraordinary woman and her unique non-profit ballet school for children. Upon hearing about the impact she was having on local children of all backgrounds, they decided they needed to meet her.
Located on the outskirts of Panajachel, Transformación Ballet is located in an unassuming upstairs apartment whose rooms have been converted into dance and tutoring classrooms.A small paper sign taped to the outside door reads “Bienvenidos a Transformación Ballet.” When the crew first meets Christine, her kindness and compassion are unmistakable. They have an opportunity to see Christine leading her students through a ballet class with grace and compassion, and later Kirk and Angelino’s Creative Director, Brooke, sat down to chat with her one-on-one.
They learn that Christine is originally from New York City; a talented professionally trained dancer who eventually made her way to Guatemala through a school internship. She explained how ballet wasn’t the original plan, but it became her calling: “I came to Guatemala through my grad school internship to work with Artisans and two dream jobs just fell through, and then I just started teaching ballet as a form of income. It really shifted when I started accepting kids on scholarships from the street and working with orphanages.”
It’s estimated that 79% of Guatemala’s indigenous population lives in poverty, with much of this population facing education and literacy problems as well as serious child malnutrition issues. The hardships children face as a result of these facts is not lost on Christine. “We just love to find a way where we can show kids that they’re beautiful on the inside and on the outside, no matter what’s happening in their life. Because kids, whether they’re from the orphanage or they’re kids who’s out on the street, or there’s domestic abuse in the house, they’re thinking about that in dance class. But this is a space where they can just express themselves, have a challenge, and be able to reach and achieve goals,” Christine explained, “And someone saying `You know, I can’t fix what’s happening at home but I can walk with you as you’re going through whatever you’re going through.” is what we are offering here.”
Christine’s sentiment of walking with the children no matter what they may be going through really resonated with Kirk and his crew. They discover that dance isn’t the only way Christine and Transformación Ballet are making an impact on children and their families. A multitude of programs are available to students of all backgrounds, including academic support scholarships, field trips, tutoring, a pen pal program, various community outreach events, and faith, health, and cultural workshops.
And the difference Transformación Ballet is making is not going unnoticed. “It blows my mind, always. The first girl who joined us from the orphanage, she is now doing better in school, getting along with all the other girls, and her self-esteem was raised just because of the dance program every day.” Christine remarked.
Christine has not only filled her ballet school with warmth and intention, but she’s built a team of dedicated and caring individuals, each drawing from their experience and talents to foster an environment of love, learning, and growth for every student. Whether leading classes at the school, or traveling to various local orphanages, every teacher with Transformación thoughtfully leads with love and the goal of making a difference for each child, no matter their status.
Connecting with change makers like Christine and unifying the world through coffee is the foundation of Where Coffee Takes You. As the visit comes to an end, Kirk, moved by the impact Christine and her school are having on Panajachel’s children, wants to help. “Speaking to these kids and seeing through their eyes the impact that you’re making really shook me.” Kirk continues with the extension of a gift to the school’s leader, “Where Coffee Takes You wants to donate ten thousand dollars. It’s really amazing what you’re doing. It’s really amazing.”
As the children dance by during a class, you can see focus and determination on their faces. But there’s something else there - peace, a feeling of belonging. When asked, the children say things like, “Miss Christine is very cool and she is so pretty and beautiful,” and “She [Christine] is like my second best friend.” You can tell that each child wants to be there and sense the enormous impact that Christine and her team of teachers have made on them.
Kirk and the entire Where Coffee Takes You crew couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to meet Christine and experience the beautiful impact she is making on her students. Since the donation, we’ve maintained contact with Christine and learned that with the donation, she would be able to pay the students’ English and school tutor for the next 2 years along with facilitating important updates to the facility.
Thank you for allowing Where Coffee Takes You to be a part of your journey, Christine.