“Although they knew they were going to struggle, they didn’t want the children’s lives to change,” Romero-Issaev says. “If they were doing tennis, they wanted to do tennis. If they were doing soccer, they wanted to do soccer. If they were doing ballet, they needed to do ballet.”
With help from Miami’s Children’s Trust, a quasi-governmental agency, Arts Ballet Theatre and the school are able to provide scholarships to students from low-income families, including many newly arrived from Venezuela.
Lusian Hernández, 25, is a soloist who dances with Arts Ballet Theatre’s professional company. She came to Miami when she was 16, determined to continue her studies and launch a career. In Venezuela now, she says there are few opportunities for dancers.
“Many schools had to close,” Hernández explains. Students didn’t have the money to pay tuition, and without tuition, the schools couldn’t pay rent. “It’s very insecure,” she says. “So [dancers] have to leave the country and the schools start closing.”
There used to be three professional ballet companies in Caracas. Now there’s just one, Hernández says, and it’s small. She remembers point shoes were already expensive and hard to find a decade ago — her parents, who are still back at home in Venezuela — say it’s now all but impossible to get a pair.
Hernandez considers herself lucky to be in the U.S. where she can continue her studies with the hopes of one day becoming a professional dancer. With help from Arts Ballet Theatre, Hernández collects used point shoes from the company’s dancers which she sends to a dance school in her hometown.
Other arts programs in Miami are also working to help young Venezuelans adjust to life in a new country. On a recent afternoon, at a church in the Miami neighborhood of Coconut Grove, a dozen beginners on violins and cellos are playing scales and simple tunes. They’re part of Musicall, another arts program offering scholarships. About a quarter of the program’s 300 students are from Venezuela.
Venezuela is “a very musical country,” says opera singer and Musicall teacher Carlos Silva. He began his vocal studies at a school that was part of El Sistema — the renowned Venezuelan music education program founded more than 40 years ago. Its graduates include conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who now leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
But under the Chávez and Muduro regimes, music education programs suffered and many teachers left the country, Silva explains, and now “those who couldn’t travel outside of the country are stuck there and they are facing a lot of problems.”