Manila Cinderella: Ballerina Jessa Balote Rises From The Slums Of Manila

Theresa Hurst

For young ballerina Jessa Balote, dubbed the Manila Cinderella, life is becoming a true rags-to-riches tale. Raised in a slum filled area of the Philippines, the dancer is finding her way to a better life thanks to a scholarship provided by a prima ballerina.

The Associated Press writes that Project Ballet Futures is a scholarship seeking to give impoverished children a chance at receiving a "top-of-the-line education in movement." Such education may provide opportunities for young dancers to rise from the confines of poverty that rage in many of the country's ghettos.

One such success story belongs to 14-year-old Jessa Balote, who emerged from Aroma, a vile slum in Manila. Home to the Manila Cinderella, the area is known to be filled with decaying tarpaulin-walled shacks, garbage filled dirt roads, and communal toilets. At 10 years old, Jessa was given a chance to escape through dance.

Four years ago, the young ballet dancer auditioned for Project Ballet Futures and was awarded a scholarship. This afforded her the opportunity to receive between six and seven years of education and dance training at a premiere ballet academy in Manila.

During the past four years, Jessa has danced on stage in several productions including Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Cinderella, and Pinocchio. In August of this year, the Manila Cinderella was a finalist in the 2012 Asian Grand Prix ballet competition in Hong Kong. The money she currently earns from performances gives much needed help to her family.

The International Digital Times reports that the scholarship is made possible by the Philippines' most famous ballerina, Lisa Macuja. The dancer is much loved in her country and has achieved a dazzling career filled with accomplishments.

At 18, Macuja was awarded a dance scholarship to the Vaganova Choreographic Institute where she graduated with honors. She went on to dance for the acclaimed Kirov Ballet, achieving the distinction of being the company's first non-Russian principal ballerina.

She is the founder of Ballet Manila, a dance theater that seeks to improve working class accessibility to the high arts. Now she is giving young hopefuls like ballerina Jessa Balote, the Manila Cinderella, a chance at following in her footsteps.