Santa Maria Orphanage – Ballet Program

Perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, like a scene from a movie, sits the Santa Maria Orphanage.  Young minds, bodies and souls are welcomed here when they have no other place to go. Once they arrive, they generally stay until their 18th birthday. Very few are adopted due to restrictive laws and unwillingness to separate siblings, since many of them have brothers or sisters also at the orphanage.

These children are surrounded by love and taught lessons of gratitude. The mamitas (adult women), who live with the children full-time, care for small groups based on gender and age. The affection is evident and happy faces greet each visitor. Their shared bedrooms are clean and neat, with stuffed animals and photos of special events adding personalization to every space.

My first visit was in September 2017 with Erwin and Daniella Musper, expats from Holland who relocated to Ecuador in 2014. They are leaders in the community related to fundraising and assisting the orphanage with major improvement projects. But more than that, Erwin and Danielle provide many extra activities for the children. For example, Erwin teaches guitar lessons to a group of the older children, they host regular “movie nights” at their home and Erwin is regularly seen with his camera in hand to document important milestones – birthdays, quinceañeras, and pizza parties.

During my tour of the various buildings, I mentioned to a group of girls that I was a ballet teacher and all of a sudden we were doing relevés, bourrée turns, and port a bra exercises. As I began to depart, they asked over and over if I was coming back. I didn’t know how to answer. But the final decision was made when an angelic 3-year-old stood face to face with me in their dirt courtyard and matched every port a bra movement I made with my arms. Seeing her concentration and my movements mirrored by her tiny form just transformed my understanding of why I was there.

So, with the blessing of the Orphanage director and the essential partnership of my Spanish teacher (providing interpretation skills for a few weeks), I began a 2 year journey of teaching weekly ballet classes to 2 groups of students. There were approximately 45 dancers on a regular basis, including 5 boys, and sometimes even the mamsitas joined us for a bit.

We stretched, rotated, pointed, sweated and laughed (mostly at my pantomime actions which filled in for my lack of Spanish knowledge!). To be fair, I did learn the Spanish names of key body parts, along with some important verbs and directional terms, but my most used Spanish phrases were ’”Si, señorita!,”  “punta los pies!,” “silencio niñas, por favor,” and “buen trabajo.”  The dancers learned a little English along the way and basic ballet terminology in French, but more than anything we shared the experience of learning, giving and growing.

If you’re a ballet teacher who would like to volunteer your time (you won’t regret it!), please contact us at

If you would like to help support programs like this, please select *DONATE* from the menu at the top of the page.