Brazilian Ballerina Maria Goncalves Hustles On And Off the Stage

Editor’s Note:Maria has had an amazing professional journey as a dancer, law student, and philanthropist. Reading this essay was truly inspiring. Not only does this girl know how to hustle – she kicks butt at it.


In my life, I have had some awesome achievements, but nothing has come easily to me. I have always had to hustle to get what I wanted. However, by enduring these struggles I have learned that we can have whatever we want if we fight strongly for it.

This is the story of my life. I have danced ballet since I was two years old. Dancing was one of my passions while growing up, but it was always very difficult for me. In order to be awarded an important choreography at one of my ballet school’s yearly dances, I had to control my weight and spend long hours practicing. Competition among the girls was very high. I had to work very hard to get the roles I wanted to dance. These struggles taught me discipline and persistence by way of overcoming difficulties such as foot pain and exhausting rehearsals. It also taught me resilience in the face of obstacles, and to never be bound by my own limits.

As a ballerina, the greatest challenge I had to overcome was in 2002, when I was appointed to perform with the principal dancer of the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theater, the most traditional and respected theater in Brazil. It was a unique experience and showed me the value of hard work.

Another activity that showed me the importance of fighting for my goals is volunteering. From 2010 to 2012, I worked as a producer in a team of ten volunteers in the organization of an annual charity event called “Dia da Beleza” (The Beauty Day), which raises funds for the international NGO “Sonhar Acordado” (Dreaming While Awake), benefitting institutions serving children living in very difficult circumstances. At that time, this NGO was having financial difficulties in its local operations in Brasilia, Brazil.

A friend of mine who worked there had the amazing idea of creating a charity event and invited me to participate. From the first year onwards, the event took off, and ended up raising enough money for the NGO and other institutions. That was due, in large part, to the fact that we were successful in making our city’s community embrace the cause.

Some of my most significant achievements while doing this job included persuading a major tourism company (Bancorbras) and a security firm (VS Segurança) to sponsor the event. Dealing with the pressure of meeting deadlines, attracting funds and donations, delegating tasks and coordinating the activities of the other volunteers was hard, but it was an amazing experience for me and I found it exhilarating.

Ultimately, the discipline and motivation I have developed to succeed as a ballerina and as a volunteer were also fundamental for my career in law as well as my long-term goal, which is to open my own international law firm and work both abroad and in Brazil.

At 25, after four long years as an intern and then assistant in the office of one of the Justices of the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF), all my efforts were recognized. I was invited to take on an exceptional position as a Law Clerk there, which I held for over four years. This was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced in my whole life. I was young and I did not have enough experience to hold such a high level position. There were many different kinds of cases and I was not able to deal with them during work hours. Procedures that law clerks could finish in one hour took me much more time. To handle this situation, I had to study very hard and work at night and on weekends in order to get my job done. They were stressful times, but my efforts paid off.

In a few months, I was doing my job very well, like the others. I was comfortable examining cases, undertaking research, and helping draft timely and relevant decisions. By the end of the four years I worked there I had become the office’s most senior Law Clerk.

In the beginning of 2013, I moved to the United States to accompany my husband, who is in the Brazilian Foreign Service. At the time, I was certain that my professional background would provide me with an easy and successful life in New York City. I believed I would be able to get a job very fast. However, this did not happen.

When I arrived here, I noticed that my English skills were not good enough to have a real conversation. I started studying English and studied for six months with little improvement. I realized that I needed to set myself a higher goal, so I decided to improve my academic skills as well, and began to apply to an LL.M. (Master in Law). My next challenge then became the Toelf test, and my English skills were still not good enough.

I decided to study everyday for 8 hours a day. It was torture for me, but I had no choice. I knew that to get what I wanted I would have to go through this.

After seven months studying very hard, I was finally able to get the score I needed. All sacrifices were worth it. I have since been admitted to the International Business and Trade Law LL.M. program at Fordham Law School. By completing this LL.M., I hope to garner the skills necessary to continue pursuing my objectives. As always, I know it will not be easy, but I am ready for the hustle.

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