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One fine summer day, about two years ago, my friend Mayara handed me a dvd called The Biggest little Farm. Pictured on the cover were a rusty red shed and cute little animals that could have been taken off a children's book.
‘You MUST watch this,’ - she said - ‘you are going to love it!’
Despite her enthusiasm, I didn’t give it much thought until a couple of weeks later when, finding myself with a free evening at home, I decided to finally ask my boyfriend to set up the neglected dvd player that gathered dust inside the cupboard for a cozy movie night. He wasn't very convinced about my choice of viewing, but I looked forward to a light little farm story, reminiscing on my friendship with the girls.
It might sound a little weird, especially for a thirty-year-old ballerina like me, but two of my closest friends in the company used to call me 'sheep', and they had their animal nicknames too. We used to dream of co-owning a little cottage in the countryside, where I'd probably spend my days reading and writing and not doing much land work, and from what I could tell after watching the film, owning a sustainable farm requires extreme hard work and commitment.
The Biggest little Farm was much more than a lovable tale with happy endings; it was actually the unbelievable true story of a couple who ditched their city home in Los Angeles to build a sustainable farm on dead land, learning as they went how to handle the business. When the movie ended, I was in tears. I'd learned that everything could co-exist in perfect harmony if only humans were more patient (and believers, like Molly and John) and did not brutally intervene nature's work. After eight years of hardships and struggles, they had managed to recreate nature's perfect balance and build an organic farm with more than enough products to be sold and consumed. I so wished I could live in a place like this!
A dancer's crazy routine – early starts and late performances – won't even allow us to get a puppy, let alone take care of a farm! The unpredictability of wildlife, as I see in films and documentaries, teaches us that even the "bad guys" have an important role to play in keeping the balance of our complex ecosystems. But it makes me reflect on how human beings have tipped the scale so off balance, and there is nothing or no one to stop us.
Even though living in a sustainable farm is the stuff of dreams, I started to wonder more and more about the food that I was eating and where it really came from. I also became more aware of climate change and environmental issues being raised by my friends and family. Luckily, I'm surrounded by people who truly care to be environmental-friendly and have encouraged me to be mindful about it.
When I was little, I very much wanted to become a vet. I looked up to my uncle Ronaldo and aunt Rose, who are environmental analysts in Brazil and have worked endlessly to protect wildlife. They even named a jaguar after me!
Watching David Attenborough’s A Life on our Planet last year also opened my eyes to hard truths of the damage we are causing to nature. Sir Attenborough is a ninety-three-year-old English naturalist who has spent his life broadcasting about wildlife, showing us the wonders of the world and its biodiversity. This time, his documentary focused more on the human impact and devastating changes we see in the environment today. As I watched it, I kept asking myself: 'How could we witness all this and do nothing about it?!'
Unfortunately, the old proverb "What the eyes don't see, the heart doesn't feel" happens to be true to most of us. As Mayara once told me, if we don't have constant reminders right in front of us, we can go on with our everyday lives and forget about the damage and waste caused by our actions. I have always slipped back into my old and comfortable survival mode, but perhaps now that life has significantly slowed down for us, it is worth trying to really give our environment the attention and value it deserves. Let us start somewhere, perhaps with understanding what living sustainably truly means.
Sustainability. that which is capable of being sustained; in ecology, the amount or degree to which the earth’s resources may be exploited without damage to the environment. (Chambers Dictionary)
In becoming aware of my own habits, it seemed like I had a loooooong way to go to be able to say I am setting a good example and far from calling myself an environmentalist, but if I was going to start somewhere, where would it be? Not wanting to feel daunted or overwhelmed by the many changes I'd have to commit to, I decided to take one step at a time, quite certain that I wanted to make long-lasting changes and believing that the smallest things would make a difference.
Perhaps the easiest place to begin is to look at your daily life as it stands- how much garbage are you creating?
At the top of my list was reducing food-waste and supporting local businesses because it seemed to be the most achievable goal. I've always had leftovers for lunch and hardly chuck any food in the bin. I'm not sure why, but I believe I take after my grandma. My boyfriend says that, most of the time, I don't realise that I'm eating mouldy food! I refuse to throw away any vegetables or fruit unless it is absolutely necessary, and admit to disregarding certain expiry dates. Amongst the dancers, I have been the one eating black bananas nobody else wants, or having the last piece of cake before it gets discarded. Sometimes, I feel like a little vacuum cleaner.
Even though things are more expensive in our local shop for being organically sourced, I started buying more variety there: eggs, bread, vegetables, yoghurt, pulses, sauces and meat for our Sunday roasts. Kevin and I keep a list in hand of all the ingredients we need for the week as to avoid overbuying food, and he taught me to always carry a reusable shopping bag. We always have one handy. In most supermarkets in England, plastic bags cost an extra 10p, which encourages people to reduce plastic waste (I recently learned that a single plastic bag takes 500 years to decompose itself).
Avoiding unnecessary plastic altogether is on my list, as well as keeping an eye on our energy and water consumption. Water has always been scarce where I grew up, as it comes from an artesian well, so I got used to having quick showers and not letting the taps run unnecessarily, but in this English winter, it's a different story. I tend to give in into temptation and spend ages in the shower, letting the hot water heat my body up. Not essential, I know, and I intend to do better.
Since pandemic times, I have tried eating less meat and more vegetables as I hear so much about people switching to a plant-based diet because it is better for the environment. Although I've been raised in Brazil, the land of everyday rice, beans, chips and steak and the famous barbecues, I'm not too fussed about red meat in particular. I learned that eating less meat could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the food system, conserve land and water and so on, but I am not committed to taking a radical approach just yet. I could be totally wrong, but I do believe that having a bit of everything in your diet is good for our organism.
Since I’ve had a lot more time to experiment in the kitchen, I have tried a few vegan and vegetarian alternatives to our usual recipes. I can’t expect my boyfriend to live on the ‘chickpea diet’, as he calls it, but some of the recipes have been approved and are easy to make, and I believe my cooking skills have actually improved from my little experiments. Most of them were inspired by Ella Mills, founder of Deliciously Ella.
Wanting to implement changes in every aspect of my living, not just at home, I started analysing things from a professional angle. The fact that I'm a dancer makes me feel so far removed from all that goes on in the outside world, and the minute I cross stage door, it is like I’m entering a different planet. As much as I try, I forget my ideologies and focus solely on work. We live in our own crazy bubble, being consumed by the concerns and egocentric ambitions of ballet, but why couldn't I bring the same purpose of living and same values into my workplace, where I spend most of my time?
I am sure there is a lot that our organisation can do as a whole, but there is also so much that each individual can do in our day-to-day routines to ensure that we are protecting the environment. Most of us dancers carry our own reusable drinking bottles, usually insulated to keep the water cool and handy, and that is already a good start. It is actually a good way to measure our daily water intake and keep hydrated. The theatre has considerably cut down on the usage of paper cups, I hardly see them anymore.
A few years ago, our canteen started giving discounted drinks if you brought your own reusable coffee mug. I went and bought myself a pretty Keep Cup. They were trendy at the time, and as soon as it arrived, I knew why. It was so much nicer to drink from their glassy cup and hold into a heat proof cork band. Even the coffee seemed to taste nicer! I also started wrapping my homemade sandwiches in bee wax wrappers, given to me as gifts, rather than cling film.
At home, we recycle everything we can, and recycling bins can be found too all over the corridors of the Opera House. One needs to know what each colour is for, and it does take some conscious effort to stick to the correct ones as they are not always within reach. Speaking of recycling, I walk into our changing room every day and wonder what destiny awaits our ever-growing pile of dead pointe shoes disposed in the corner. I know from experience that ribbons and some elastics can be washed and reused, as I have done for many years (more out of habit and laziness, to be fair, as they are already cut to the size I need), but I'm not so sure if pointe shoes can be recycled.
Next to the overflowing box of shoes, I see another pile of unwanted clothes, mostly old ballet wear. Usually, dancers are quite good at exchanging items or borrowing things off each other from time to time, but it is heart breaking to see how much of it still lays there, unclaimed for. It dawned on me quite recently that I never thought about my clothing, what it is made of and where it comes from, in the same way that I do with the food that I consume. I learned that there is such a thing as shopping ethically for fashion too, and that brands like Patagonia and Finisterre (UK based) are sustainable brands that, through collaboration and innovative ideas, are making long-lasting clothes out of biodegradable materials, such as bioplastics, and finding solutions to the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter in the world. We, as consumers, have a big role to play too.
My friend Annette - the biggest nature-lover I know and an amazing artist, founder of buvolipaints - told me of an effective technique she has acquired to stop herself from buying impulsively:
'Before buying any clothes, ask yourself: Am I going to wear this more than thirty times?'
Why thirty? I wondered. It just seemed like a small number to me, but upon reflection, I realised that at least half of my wardrobe is made of clothes I haven't worn this many times. Annette also said that every time she purchases an item of clothing, she also takes a new plant home. To surround oneself with plants and greenery is the best way to be reminded of the beauty, simplicity and comfort we find in nature. In recent years, I have gone literally from plant-killer (even cactus plants died in my hands) to creating a jungle in my living-room, loving my plants and caring for them, and feeling like they love me back, which makes me want to protect them and reach out to nature as a whole. Walking in a park or spending a few minutes in a garden is such a lovely way to re-energize and feel connected.
I never felt guilty when buying balletwear because they are my everyday clothes, a ballerina's 'uniform'. I spend more time in my leotards and tights than in any street clothes that I own. Dancers like wearing leotards in different colours and styles, wrapping themselves up in layers upon layers of body warmers, whether it is for practical reasons (keeping our muscles warm and ready to go), looking fashionable (there is such thing as ballet fashion and style), or simply trying to hide ourselves in vulnerable days. The problem is we do end up hoarding a lot of things we don't actually need or wear, spending a lot of money, and worst of all, buying items that are not sustainable.
All hope is not lost, however, to the world of ballet fashion. Recently, I got introduced to a sustainable ballet brand called Imperfect Pointes, from Manchester. All their leotards and ballet wear are made of econyl yarn, a form of regenerated nylon, and other sustainable textiles that would otherwise be polluting the Earth, and all their products can be recycled again and again. I also love the message behind Imperfect Pointes: it is ok to be imperfect and to take things on board slowly. In partnership with Mayara, the official brand supporter, they are starting to make a difference in how we see and shop for our ballet stuff.
'Sustainability is no longer about doing less harm. It's about doing more good in the world we live in, in every way we can.' - Mayara Magri
Striving for perfection can sometimes leave us stuck in one place, too afraid of making mistakes or not ready to fully commit, but every little choice we make, however small, can have a positive impact on the environment. Putting nature at the heart of our decisions seem to be the way to ensure that we make the best choices, and these are worthy goals to have in one's life.
Sustainability seems to be about our health as a society, and as we have learned the hard way, health always comes first. I believe that artists are a great force for change, and perhaps this is how we can feel more connected to the environment and serve a bigger purpose. I have found that in ballet and life in general, it is ok to progress slowly and gradually, to fall down and come back up, to be different than what is considered normal. By taking one step at a time, watch how inspired you are to take more.
'Each one of us must do our part in creating a better world, for though the small choices we make each day - what we buy, what we eat, what we wear - may seem insignificant, the cumulative effect of billions of people making ethical choices, will start to heal the natural world.' - Dr Jane Goodall
Learn more about sustainable wear:
Help plant more trees and learn of environmental projects with Ecologi
For plant-based recipes and zero waste ideas:
For inspiring portraits of flowers and nature, follow @buvolipaints and check her website: Buvolipaints