‘It felt like there was a resistance to foreigners coming into Irish dance’

New to the Parish: Anderson De Souza arrived from Brazil in 2012

Anderson DeSouza: ‘In school the kids would call me a faggot for being a dancer. I was afraid to show who I really was.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Anderson De Souza was 14 the first time he went to a dance class. The young Brazilian instantly felt at ease, and he caught the eye of the teacher, who encouraged him to keep coming back.

“My family liked dancing – but not proper classes, just for fun, like all Brazilians do for parties. But when I saw dance I realised I could be myself doing it. It helped me know my body.”

De Souza was born on a farm in the state of São Paulo; when he was a child he moved to the city of São José do Rio Pardo, where his parents worked for the council. After attending that first dance class he realised he had a natural talent, and he soon started learning routines with dancers in their late teens and early 20s. An only child, De Souza had a very close relationship with his parents but wasn't particularly friendly with his schoolmates. However, the young people in his dance classes were different.

In school the kids would call me a faggot for being a dancer. I was afraid to show who I really was. But then I found this second family through dance who were open and welcoming

“I realised I could actually be myself with the other dancers. In school the kids would call me a faggot for being a dancer. I was afraid to show who I really was. But then I found this second family through dance who were open and welcoming.”

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The more he danced the more he realised he wanted to pursue a career in dancing. “I could see that dancing professionally was possible, but I knew it was difficult. I started doing extra classes and really pushed myself to learn. It was my wake-up call to freedom. I realised my body was capable of doing amazing things, so why not take that seriously?”

After finishing school he threw himself into dancing. “All I wanted was to dance. If I went to college I’d have to stop, and then my body wouldn’t be the same later. I was young, so I decided to take the chance and see where it took me.”

When his teacher, Mauro Rodriguez, offered him the chance to move to his new studio in São Paulo, De Souza accepted, with a plan to focus on contemporary dance. But he ended up doing intensive ballet training.

“I’d never had proper ballet training, I was good at copying people, but I had no idea what I was doing. Ballet is all about perfection, and your body really hurts afterwards, especially as a male dancer. I was in agony and crying after classes. If I’d started out with ballet I never would have danced professionally: it was too hard. But because I had a mixed dance background I kept going.”

During this time he also worked at the city council, a job he did “to show my parents if dance didn’t work I had this”. However, he quit when he was offered a role in a musical production in São Paulo. “My parents were always so supportive. They said if it doesn’t work out your house is always here, the door is always open. It was so good to have that support from them.”

Anderson de Souza: ‘Ballet is all about perfection, and your body really hurts afterwards, especially as a male dancer. I was in agony and crying after classes.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

He spent the next few years dancing and teaching in São Paulo, but running between rehearsals, performances and teaching became exhausting. He decided to move into dance production, but to do that he needed to learn English. Then, in 2011, he was offered a job on a cruise around the Mediterranean. “I think the universe just brought everything together. I needed to save money and the cruise-ship opportunity came.”

He spent 15 months aboard before returning to São Paulo with his savings and a plan to move abroad and learn English. He discovered the visa for his first choice of country – Australia – was far too expensive. Then he heard about Ireland.

“When the agency said Ireland I was literally, like, ‘Where’s Ireland?’ Then I realised they spoke English and I had enough money, so I booked the flight.”

He arrived in Dublin in September 2012 and found a job as a kitchen porter at the Cathal Brugha Army barracks, in Rathmines in Dublin. At first he didn't dance, but eventually he ventured into a class at Dance Ireland taught by Mariam Ribon, the artistic director of Dublin Youth Dance Company.

“Mariam came up to me and said, ‘Have you danced before?’ She said, ‘I can tell from your body you’re a professional dancer. This is just an intermediate class.’” After the class Ribon invited him to give a solo performance at the Irish Youth Dance Festival she was organising.

"Since then everything happened with DYDC and Mariam, because we work with the same style. She really liked the way I teach, and I liked the way she teaches too."

It felt like there was a resistance to foreigners coming into Irish dance. I don't know if it's a fear of people taking jobs or they're just not used to working with people from different backgrounds. But it made me sad

He started teaching jazz-dance classes but also found work as a waiter at a restaurant so he could continue improving his English. "I started travelling around Ireland and realised I really like the country. I felt safe here and more relaxed. Working as a kitchen porter, I was able to afford to fly to London to see a musical and go to Portugal to see friends. If I left Ireland I wouldn't have this lifestyle."

But breaking into the Irish dance scene was more difficult than he expected. “It felt like there was a resistance to foreigners coming into Irish dance. I don’t know if it’s a fear of people taking jobs or they’re just not used to working with people from different backgrounds. But it made me sad, because it’s the chance to interact with people from different places.”

De Souza went on to train as a fitness instructor, which is now the day job he uses to fund his love of dance performance and choreography. The pandemic has been very difficult, he says. He disliked giving dance classes over Zoom. “At the beginning everyone thought it would only last a few months, and my body needed a rest. But then my body needed movement, and teaching through a screen was difficult: it felt like a wall.”

Work has started to pick up in recent months, and in November De Souza choreographed a piece for the Irish Youth Dance Festival that examined freedom of expression through movement.

After nearly a decade here, he says Ireland is his second home. "This place has felt like home since day one. I'm part of the community now, teaching classes for young people, sharing my experiences and dancing. The people who leave Ireland don't have anything to offer here. If you have something to share here, you're welcomed."

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish