Edinson Cavani has swapped soccer boots for ballet shoes to help popularize classical dance for boys and smash stereotypes in his native Uruguay.
As the soccer world speculates on the 33-year-old’s future, Cavani donned tights at Uruguay’s National School of Dance in Montevideo in a bid to encourage boys in soccer-mad Uruguay to take up ballet.
“I don’t share the view that every boy has to play only soccer,” the long-haired striker said.
Photo: AFP / SODRE / Nicolas der Agopian
“I believe that girls and boys have to be free to seek their happiness in what they are most passionate about, because that’s the best way to be well-trained, growing day by day in a firm structure,” Cavani said.
Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time record scorer has ended his contract with the French champions and is a free agent, with clubs like Italy’s Juventus and Atletico Madrid circling for his signature.
However, before heading back to Europe to find a new club, Cavani accepted an invitation from the National School for Artistic Training (ENFA) to take part in a campaign to increase the recruitment of boys in Uruguay’s national ballet school.
Trading his body-swerves and step-overs for pirouettes and glissades, Cavani was put through his paces by professional dancers at the Official Service of Diffusion, Representations and Entertainment (SODRE), which hosts the country’s national ballet company, before recording a video message for young ballet hopefuls.
“The experience was incredible. The dancers explained to me how to do the steps and when I saw them, I was left with a real sense of admiration — because dance is something wonderful,” he said.
The Uruguay striker said that the link with ballet came through his wife, Jocelyn Burgardt, who has a university degree in cultural management.
“My life partner is passionate about dance. That’s why, when we were in Paris, we went to see the ballet — where we had a great time and really enjoyed it,” Cavani said.
Uruguay has always punched above its weight on the world soccer stage, twice winning the FIFA World Cup.
In large part, it is down to what they call Garra Charrua — a fighting spirit rooted in the culture of the country’s last indigenous community, the Charruas, and the silky skill of soccer players such as Cavani.
However, Cavani’s message is that Uruguay’s young men should not be afraid to embrace their graceful side, too.
Of the 440 students attending ENFA’s classes in ballet, contemporary dance, tango, folklore and lyrical art, fewer than a quarter are male.
The proportion plummets in dance, which has 148 girls to 12 boys during a period when the SODRE has emerged as one of the most prestigious ballet companies in Latin America.
“The gender gap is not narrowing, not even in tango — and it hasn’t changed in recent years,” ENFA director Natalia Sobrera said.
When boys do enroll, many drop out of the classes early because of a lack of family support, she added.
“Then there’s all of the peer pressure,” Sobrera said. “There are a lot of boys who hide their ballet shoes in their backpacks — sometimes even from their fathers, because they don’t like them coming,” she said.
Given the cultural stereotypes, the campaign fronted by Cavani is aimed at families, as much as at the boys themselves.
For the younger boys, there are no prejudices — “it’s a physical experience, where you acquire habits of movement, like in soccer,” Sobrera said.
However, there is work to do to get adults to leave behind their preconceived notions about dance and gender, she said.
“Dance has nothing to do with the question of masculinity,” she added.
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