This Dancer Refused to Let a Hurricane Get In the Way of Her Ballet Training

April 8, 2018

16-year-old ballerina Iris Rocío Dávila is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. When Hurricane Maria hit last September, Iris’ ballet dreams seemed to be destroyed along with everything else on the island. But a few months later, she showed up as a new student at the San Francisco Ballet School. And the story of how it all came to be is pretty incredible.

It started years ago, when Iris discovered ballet at age 11, through a program at her public school. Last year, she attended San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive, thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that covered the costs. At the end of the summer, though, she wasn’t asked to stay and train full-time, so she headed back to San Juan and kept studying diligently at Escuela Especializada en Ballet Julián E. Blanco high school and Conservatorio de Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico dance school.

After the hurricane last fall, things looked bleak. Like most of the island, Iris’ home had no power or running water. Two months later her school reopened, only to immediately close after losing power again. Her ballet training was put on hold and lots of her dance friends started trying to transfer to programs in Florida.

Then she had an idea. Iris started hand-writing a letter to the SFB school, hoping that through some miracle she might be able to transfer there. “It seemed like a crazy idea,” Iris told the San Francisco Chronicle. Her mom drove 45 minutes to San Juan just to mail it. But when weeks went by and she never got a response, she assumed her letter had gotten lost along the way.

Luckily for her, though, it ended up straight in the hands of the school’s director, Patrick Armand. “I had been following the drama in Puerto Rico on TV and all of a sudden I got a letter from this girl,” Armand told the San Francisco Chronicle. “She was so eager to continue her training, and she was really suffering. If she didn’t come here it would have been six or eight months until the ballet school (in San Juan) was rebuilt. Ballet is a job that takes training every day.”

He emailed her back and let her know that she had been accepted and given a full scholarship to cover her tuition. “I did a flip in the car,” Iris said. “I was crying and going crazy.”

And after 105 days without power, Iris boarded a plane in January and headed to San Francisco, where she’ll perform in the student showcase this May. Talk about dedication.

Read more about her incredible story, and see how she’s liking life in California, over at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Iris Rocío Dávila in class at SFB (Photo by Jessica Christian via San Francisco Chronicle)