Since she was a child, the founder of Ballet Rwanda, Caroline Joan Peixoto always knew that she wanted to be a ballerina and, perhaps one day, teach dance. This was a goal that she accomplished when, in 2009, she arrived in Rwanda determined to open a dance school.
Born in New Jersey 25 years ago to Paul and Ellen Peixoto, Caroline has two brothers, Jeff, a film director, and Chris, a musician.
After graduating in history and psychology at Fordham University in New York, she decided that she wanted to introduce classical ballet to people who’d never heard of it. She chose Rwanda as her destination after meeting a couple who were travelling to Rwanda.
Starting with only five children, her dance classes have now increased to 120 children, who range from toddlers to teenagers. In fact, she plans to introduce classes for adults early next year.
“I am living my dream right here in Rwanda. It is still quite unbelievable as I never thought I would come to Africa. But here I am,” says Caroline. “I have wanted to do this since I was 14 years old.”
“Working with children has always been a dream of mine and coming to Rwanda gave me that very opportunity, “narrates Caroline.
She was introduced to dance when she was four years old and learned from some of the best dance instructors from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Steps on Broadway.
At Ballet Rwanda, classes cost Rwf 6,000 per week. For children who cannot afford to pay for the classes, scholarships are provided for them. But for now, she uses a sliding scale and takes in everyone she can, each paying whatever they can afford.
She relocated from a small office in town and moved to another house in Kimihurura, which eventually became too small. Presently, they are in a house in Gacuriro, with a studio that is child -friendly. In January, they will move to a bigger place in Kibagabaga.
“I have fallen in love with Rwanda and my life here,” says Caroline. Like any other business, she faces challenges, the biggest being space and creating an authentic ballet studio. “We do not have hard wood floors, which are very expensive to install here and crucial for a ballet school. Getting the right suppliers is very difficult.”
To overcome her challenges, she plans on moving to a bigger house in January where she will have an arts center with dance, yoga, film, and art classes. She is also carrying out a fundraiser and needs $20,000 dollars to make it all happen. To date, she has surpassed her target.
“I am running my business on a very small budget despite the number of students,” adds Caroline. “We need another teacher but I cannot afford it yet.”
She is very confident, however, that this business will pick up like any other since great things take time, and the goal is to keep up.
“As far as people’s views go, they have been very receptive. So far we have had six performances with about 500 people coming in to watch,” says Caroline. “This has been the most rewarding part of the job for me, seeing my choreography performed on a stage by girls from around the world.”
Her aim is to take Ballet Rwanda and transform it into an arts center in Rwanda where people can go to express themselves - nurtured in their own creativity. City Arts, as she will call it, will be a place where people can share and learn. She believes that a community arts center will be good for Rwanda.
She likes travelling and has done so since she was a kid. Here in Rwanda, she normally goes to Kibuye or Lake Bunyonyi to relax. She likes to cook, exercise and hang out at Sundowner with her friends. She has a boyfriend who also lives in Rwanda.
To young women entrepreneurs in Rwanda she says, “Go ahead and start a business here. Don’t be afraid to explore your talents. Rwanda is an open country and there are so many things that need to happen here.”
“In a place so focused on IT and finance, it’s important for things like arts to be encouraged as well because they are no less important to this nation,” adds Caroline.
She hopes that Rwanda will become a center for cultural creativity and hopes that City Arts will play a role in this.