The Orphaned Starfish Foundation serves over 10,000 orphaned, trafficked and at-risk children with 57 computer centers in 26 countries. But more than just funding the construction and operation of vocational training facilities, they also bring the arts to the children they serve. New York City Ballet and Cats star Georgina Pazcoguin has traveled both to Nicaragua and Puerto Rico with the organization and ahead of the annual gala on October 20th, I caught up with her to talk about what the organization means to her.
Talk to me about Orphaned Starfish. How did you get involved?
Orphaned Starfish was a connection through my friend who called and asked if I would be willing to go to Nicaragua to teach orphans ballet. Teaching is not something I’m usually comfortable with at all, but teaching ballet for the sake of uplifting someone’s life is something I’ll gladly put aside my insecurities for.
What about teaching makes you feel insecure?
I feel like I have so much to learn. Ballet is an art form no one ever really conquers but doing this for this specific reason took the pressure off. I wasn’t teaching them to become ballerinas, I was sharing with them what I do. Ballet is a way to escape, to find joy through movement, to suspend your disbelief. That’s something I feel like I have a true connection with and I have the confidence to pass that along to other people.
How did that first trip to Nicaragua affect your life?
It was a whirlwind. When I first scheduled it, I had a few days off from performing with New York City Ballet so I was going to fly down, help out and then fly back in time for rehearsal on Tuesday. A few days before I was set to do that, I tore my ACL. I saw a healer who got me off crutches, but I was in a brace and walked with a cane. I’d promised those girls I was coming so I went. I was afraid the women and girls would be disappointed that I was wearing a brace and wasn’t the ballerina they were expecting, but every single one of the nuns was beaming from ear-to-ear just to have someone want to come visit them. They didn’t care at all that I walked with a cane. It lifted me up so high before I’d even taught them anything.
In Nicaragua, there’s a lot of sexual trafficking and it’s heartbreaking. A lot of the girls there are in utter poverty. As we moved through the days, they were so attentive. Ballet is such a disciplined art form and it was so hot there, but because of their openness of spirit, they took to it. It really put my life and my injury into perspective. When you’re a dancer and you get injured, you lose your identity and I was slipping into that. They did more for me than I could do for them in that sense.
The need is great everywhere they work, but especially in Puerto Rico at the moment. What was the biggest takeaway from your trip there?
Since that trip, I’ve been doing more advocacy and working with organizations that bring light to sex trafficking and those who’ve been sexually abused. I went into that trip with a lot more knowledge. The girls there have experienced such violence and have been so harmed both physically and emotionally.
One of the girls on that trip really affected me. She was one of the youngest and newest girls there. She was super shy in her first class and she wasn’t really taking to it. At the end of the day, we had a jam session where we play pop music and everyone just dances around. The next morning, she came up to me and gave me a hug. She whispered in my ear in Spanish that for once since coming there, she didn’t dream of violence. She dreamt that she and I were dancing. I just lost it. It’s so special to impart such hope to young people that there’s good out there. What’s great about Orphaned Starfish is that they’re giving them the way out of their life.
What’s next for you?
The Orphaned Starfish gala is coming up on October 20th and I’ll continue to work with them. Right now, I’m putting together a book about the Rogue Ballerina! That’s a new venture! I’m back at New York City Ballet and after that, I’m regrouping for my next main event. I certainly hope Cats wasn’t my last foray into Broadway and after an injury, I’m just so grateful to be back dancing.
For more on the Orphaned Starfish Foundation, head over to http://www.orphanedstarfish.org