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Young African Dancer Awaits 'Big Break'

In a continent known for its musical prowess, but few economic opportunities, there are thousands of young people in Africa aspiring to careers in the music industry. In this final part of a series on challenges facing young African women, Phuong Tran reports from Dakar on a dancer who tries to make her living as an artist, while waiting for her big break.

Every day at 7:00 p.m., Awa Goudiaby, 24, puts a long wrap skirt on, stretches while the drummers rehearse, and stands with other dancers in a dark alleyway.

She does small jumps and stretches before she enters the dimly-lit concrete courtyard where she will rehearse for two hours with other members of the Ballet Africaine Fambondy.

The singing is the dancers' cue to come out dancing in line formation. The drums' rhythm determines the dance they choose. Domba, Mandeng, Balanta, Wolof, Diolla, each dance named locally after an African tribe.

Goudiaby steps into the middle of a circle formation and performs a solo for two minutes. It is an acrobatic, gravity-defying series of leaps, dizzying turns and a landing from more than a meter in the air.

She tried to finish her high school baccalaureate, but did not complete her studies because she did not want to be in school. She had no motivation, but was not sure what she wanted to do.

"I believe in destiny. I was inspired by an African ballet performance I saw on television, found the school, and four years later [I] am now one of the lead performers," she said.

In a country where the average annual income is less than $1,000, tries to dance full time by teaching classes to foreigners, dancing with her ballet group in monthly performances, and occasionally working as a backup dancer for Senegalese singers.

She gets paid about $10 per hour for private lessons and performances.

" It is not enough. I want to dance every day to make my living," said Goudiaby. "I do not know how to do hairdressing. I did not graduate from high school. I would not know what else to do if I did not dance. The dancers here before me have already left to dance in Europe.

Last week, a dancer from a German ballet company held auditions to find two female and two male dancers. Goudiaby and the others hope to hear the outcome soon.

"When I dance, I feel like a true artist. I admit. I want people to admire me, to adore me. I want them to feel the heat, the rhythm of African dance," she said.

When asked if she wants to be her country's next big star, she modestly replies: "I do not need to be star to simply shine. But the stars do help us see more clearly."