By Camile Rocha-Keys @CamileRKeys
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Videographer / director: Kadeh Ferreira
Producer: Camile Rocha-Keys, Ed Baranski
Editor: Sonia Estal
Professional dancer Thaina Silva, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may not fit the stereotypically slim, long-legged stature of a ballerina, but that hasn’t stopped her from wowing crowds with her elegance and showing anyone can dance, whatever their size.
The size 18 student says she learnt to dance before she could walk and has dreamt of becoming a professional ballet dancer since she was a young girl - despite the uncomfortable looks and nasty comments she’s endured throughout her life.
Currently studying at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the 24-year-old trains over 20 hours a week whilst also performing with a plus-size dance group and appearing on Brazilian TV channels dancing too.
Growing up Thaina has been called a variety of cruel names and has even been told to lose weight by her ballet teachers - who recommended she take diet pills when she was 17 years old.
Her dance teachers also refused to let Thaina represent the dance school on stage until she was an 'acceptable body size.’
And when she didn’t think anything else could be thrown at her, Thaina was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, age 23.
Speaking to Barcroft TV, the ballerina said: “When you hear the word ‘cancer', you start thinking about many things - mainly, that you’re going to die.
“When I discovered I had thyroid cancer, the world fell apart as you don’t expect it would happen to you, especially when you’re young and exercising. It was the moment when dancing helped me a lot.
“When I'm dancing it's the moment when I feel myself free. Through dancing I can express things I can't express with words.”
Thaina’s father, Sergio Fidelis, recalls the moment he found out his daughter had cancer.
He said: “When I found out Thaina had cancer, it wasn’t easy news to take in. But we are religious people, we have faith.
“So we braced ourselves same as she did, she went back to dancing, concentrating on dancing and studies and everything ended up well.”
Although Thaina continues to undergo treatment, she is still dancing.
Thaina said: “Now I’m fine, I’m cured. I keep doing the treatment and I’m still going to dance a lot.”
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Thaina even quit dancing for two years because of the constant bullying about her size.
She explained: “It was making me feel very uncomfortable. So I tried quitting dancing because of the prejudice.
“I was bullied, I felt myself very isolated. I was told to take medicines to lose weight.
“There was this case when a teacher told me I'd only be able to go onto a stage to represent his school when I'd have the body ‘he wanted’."
Mocked and teased for her larger size, Thaina suffered a variety of cruel nicknames.
She said: “People were saying "You're fat." I was gaining many nicknames because I wanted to dance and was fat.
"Some people have called me ‘Bola-rina”, a mixture of bola, the Portuguese word for ball and ballerina.”
However, dancing has always had the ability to capture Thaina’s heart.
Her father said: “Ever since she was a child, Thaina was always an extrovert, very jolly. An episode that stayed in my memory was Thaina on a beach, when my sister realised Thaina wasn't around, she was wondering where the girl was and when they went to look for her, Thaina was on top of a music truck dancing.
“So she was already revealing what she liked and what she wanted to be without realising it.”
Once Thaina started studying dance at university, she was finally able to move towards turning her dream to reality, helped by the love and support of her three teachers and friends.
Thaina said: “It was here that I discovered that I could be whatever I wanted to be, that my body was accepted and it could dance.”
Thaina’s friend, Tamires said: “When I think of a ballerina, I think of a soul of a ballerina. I think that before everything else, your heart and your soul make you a ballerina, not your body and physical appearance.”
Teacher, Ignez Calfa said: “What I admire in Thaina is her audacity, her curiosity and determination”
Roberto Eizemberg Dos Santos, another of Thaina’s teacher, said: “For Thaina only the sky is the limit, she's got all of the possibilities of the world to grow.”
The talented ballerina has appeared on a number of Brazilian TV shows and also runs workshops for people of all sizes.
Thaina added: “When I accepted myself the way I am, I started taking part in TV programmes and plus size beauty contests. My name is called out, people are expecting a ballerina and a fat ballerina comes out and the reactions were ‘gasps’.”
With her positive attitude, Thaina hopes to inspire other plus-size woman to do anything they dream to do.
Ignez said: “I believe this will be a breakthrough in dancing. I think the figure of Thainá brings this possibility.”
Thaina hopes to travel around the world dancing. People continue to be shocked when she walks onto the stage - she constantly puzzles the audience with her elegance and ability to go en pointe.
Thaina said: “My body speaks in a way I can't manage to express with words. I think there aren't enough words to express what I feel. That's it. Dancing is my life.”