The first and last time I took ballet lessons, it was a summer program my mother enrolled my sister and me in. We got to wear the cute little leotards, tights, and ballet shoes all in pink. I learned to plie and to move gracefully (well, as gracefully as my four-year-old self could). And then that was it. We moved on to voice lessons the next few summers; it was only when I asked many years later that I found out they’d enrolled us in ballet to fix my being pigeon-toed.
I can barely remember any of the terminology we used, and by the time I tried to do ballet again at nine years old I was gangly from a growth spurt and more inflexible and unable to do the things my peers could thanks to their years of ballet.
Of course that didn’t stop me from learning to dance other styles, getting strength and flexibility from yoga, and eventually teaching (and retiring from) some forms of dance and yoga. But even if I don’t have the classical ballet lines or move like a ballerina, I like to think I can still appreciate the artistry and athleticism ballet dancers put into every performance.
You might think you’re too old to learn to dance, but that’s an assumption the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila seeks to disprove. With their ballet classes for adults available at their branches in Donada Street, Pasay and Fisher Mall, Quezon City, anyone can now learn to dance.
I got to attend a pop-up ballet class led by the illustrious Ms. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde herself, held at Yoga+ Express at McKinley Hill Venice Piazza. While the space is usually home to yogis and yoginis, we got to use its wooden floors and mirrored walls to learn a bit of ballet from the first ever Filipina prima ballerina.
Ballet Manila is the country’s premier classical dance company and the only ballet school in the Philippines with direct links to the Russian Ballet Academy of St. Petersburg, Russia. Aside from classical ballet, they are also offering Bollywood dance, Floor Barre, and Mat Pilates classes as part of its summer workshop program.
She explained the philosophy behind ballet and how it is learned and taught: through a vocabulary of (French) words denoting poses and movements. We would learn only a few things that day, but given my not-so-young and lithe body these days I knew it would be a challenge anyway!
Because the Yoga+ Express space didn’t have barres, she taught us to do plies (knee bends) and tendus (extending leg to the front, side, or back with pointed toes) while lying on the floor to encourage us to maintain that tall and long spine.
Explaining the difference between yoga and ballet (both of which she does daily), Ms. Lisa said that movement in ballet is about the turn-out, versus yoga requiring a spiraling inward of muscles. Turning out from the hips allows for greater range of motion.
She also taught us arm positions, and I tried to move through them all while being graceful. I’m very out of practice with arm lines, so getting my arms to look like hers took a bit of mirror work to activate the body awareness again! But by the end of the class, as we put everything we learned together to move to pieces of music, I was starting to feel more comfortable in my body again.
Ballet Manila began receiving inquiries about using ballet as a form of exercise, so they developed the class catering to adults. Ms. Lisa said, “To be hones, it’s such a pleasant surprise that people are so interested in the health aspect of ballet. It’s such a great form of exercise as every part of your body gets the workout it deserves. In addition, it is very holistic, which means that you are not just building the strength of your muscles, but also your stamina and flexibility, and you’re doing all these while enjoying the art.”
The class was challenging but thanks to Ms. Lisa had a very supportive atmosphere. No one judged you for not being able to point your toes as aggressively as someone who’s had 16 years of dance training, or barely being able to lift your leg away from the floor. I came away with a sense of accomplishment, and hopefully better posture.
My childhood friend Julia of BlessMyBag was able to attend a few previous classes taught by Ms. Lisa. It was nice to take the class with her because it reminded me not to be such a perfectionist and that it takes time for your body to learn the proper movements.
When you stop learning, you stop growing, so I highly encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. It might be ballet, it might be cha-cha, it might be something else! But do something different at some point. You’ll never know if you like it until you try it.
For a complete list of schedules and courses available at Ballet Manila, visit their website balletmanila.com.ph or call their branches (Pasay City 400-0292/525-5967; Quezon City 285-1343/285-1353), or email them. You can also follow Ballet Manila on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.