Uruguayan soccer star puts on ballet shoes to bust stereotypes

(Left) Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani (centre) receiving instructions from professional dancers at the Sodre, Uruguay's National Ballet company. (Left below) Young boys taking part in a ballet class at Uruguay's National School of Dance in Monte
Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani (centre) receiving instructions from professional dancers at the Sodre, Uruguay's National Ballet company. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Left) Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani (centre) receiving instructions from professional dancers at the Sodre, Uruguay's National Ballet company. (Left below) Young boys taking part in a ballet class at Uruguay's National School of Dance in Monte
Young boys taking part in a ballet class at Uruguay's National School of Dance in Montevideo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MONTEVIDEO • Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani has swopped football boots for ballet shoes to help popularise classical dance for boys and smash stereotypes in his native country.

As the football world speculates on the 33-year-old's future, Cavani donned tights at the Uruguay National Ballet school in Montevideo recently to lend himself to efforts to get young 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.

"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," added Cavani.

Paris Saint-Germain's all-time record scorer has ended his contract with the French champions and is a free agent, with clubs lsuch as Italy's Juventus and Spain's Atletico Madrid circling for his signature.

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 young 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 Sodre, Uruguay's National Ballet company, before recording a video message to kids.

"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 Uruguayan striker said the link with ballet came via his wife Jocelyn Burgardt, who has a 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, " he said.

Uruguay, one of the smaller nations in the world of football, has always punched above its weight on the soccer stage, twice winning the World Cup in 1930 and 1950.

I don't share the view that every boy has to play only soccer. 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.

EDINSON CAVANI, Paris Saint-Germain's all-time record scorer, who is taking part in a campaign to increase the recruitment of young boys in Uruguay's national ballet school

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 people, the Charruas, and the silky skill of players such as Cavani.

But 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, less than a quarter are boys. And the proportion drops drastically in dance: 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," said Ms Natalia Sobrera, executive director of Enfa.

She said that when boys do enrol, many drop out of classes early because of a lack of family support.

"Then there's all the peer pressure. 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," said Ms Sobrera.

So the campaign fronted by Cavani is aimed at families, as much as boys themselves.

For the boys, there are no prejudices, "it's a physical experience, where you acquire habits of movement, like in soccer", said Ms Sobrera.

With adults, however, there is work to do to rid them of preconceived notions about dance and gender, she said.

"Dance has nothing to do with the question of masculinity, " Ms Sobrera added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2020, with the headline 'Uruguayan soccer star puts on ballet shoes to bust stereotypes'. Print Edition | Subscribe