School offers free ballet classes and new opportunities for rural girls

The girls in Duancun village of Xiong’an New Area, in north China’s Hebei province, have a new focus thanks to Duancun School, a local public elementary school that offers free ballet classes.

Guan Yu (front) and his students dance on a boat.

The school started the free teaching five years ago when an art education center was established by a Beijing foundation. The center has been well staffed, its teachers from renowned art institutes including Central Conservatory of Music, Central Academy of Drama, and Beijing Dance Academy, according to Li Jianxue, principal of Duancun School.
Guan Yu, who has been teaching ballet at the school together with his wife for the past five years, told People’s Daily that ballet offers life-changing opportunities for the girls in the village.
The girls originally had two options when planning for their future: become farmers or go to college, the latter obviously being more difficult for them as rural children, he explained.
Every week, Guan and his wife would travel to Duancun from Beijing, about 160 kilometers away, and spend four hours teaching the girls. It has become a routine for him over the past five years.
However, the classes haven’t always been as popular as they are today. To begin with, most of the villagers refused to send their children to the art school, as learning ballet was considered unpractical for rural girls.
It was Guan’s patience and explanation that has shown the benefits of practicing ballet to parents. Gradually, more and more villagers were persuaded to send their children to the school.

A woman sends her daughter to a ballet class.

According to Guan, before the classes the girls had no clear future goals, but ballet has changed them, helping them shake off their shyness and gain some confidence.
“Their changes also impact their parents,” Li said. The villagers now have a more profound understanding of the teachers’ dedication and social responsibilities, which in turn improves the conduct of the whole village, he explained.
Art education is a window for the girls to look into the world and their future, broadening their views, Li said, adding that some of them may even go on to be art professionals in the future.
Over the past five years, Guan has not only acted as a teacher, but has also become a father figure in the community with his love and care for the children. What he has achieved is now motivating the next generation. Students can often be heard saying “I want to be like Guan when I grow up and help others”.