For the love of ballet

For the love of ballet

- in Feature, Opinion

The past three weeks have been stressful for my daughter Himig.

True to her name, Himig (which means “melody” in English) has been engrossed with music and dance all her young life. She sings all day. She belts out songs in the shower. She learns a new song from YouTube every week. She masters the theme songs of her favorite movies and she sings them at home and in the car, so much so that we do not need a radio. She hums herself to sleep. She carries a tune quite literally and she does as soon as she wakes up each morning.

But singing is not just the only thing that she is passionate about. She loves to dance! My heart was delighted when, at the age of three, she asked me if she could enroll in ballet lessons. I thought my daughter got the song-and-dance gene of the family. My father was the Perry Como of his barrio and earned a scholarship in college by being a member of the cultural dance troupe. My sister sings like an angel. I myself love to dance but my parents could not afford to send me for formal lessons. To hear my daughter say, “I can’t help but dance when I hear music, Mom! Can I please go for ballet?” was music to my ears!

To put Himig on a good ballet program in Manila meant we needed to tighten our belts. My husband and I decided to squeeze our budget and that I do a direct sales business from home. The fees for a good ballet school were almost the same as the fees if she were enrolled in a private elementary school. Good thing Himig is homeschooled and we could work around our budget for her education to include ballet lessons.

When we moved to Davao, the first thing we looked for was a good ballet school for Himig. All our family friends who were longtime residents of the city pointed us to the Royeca School of Ballet along Jacinto Extension behind Central Bank. As I researched about the school I found out that it is the best in Davao when it comes to classical ballet. It boasts of rigid training thrice a week with periodic exams using the National Ballet Syllabus and two recitals in a year. Its students have gone to Manila and abroad for competitions and bagged the gold at certain times.  While I was elated, I was also bracing myself to pay an exorbitant fee. I was utterly shocked when I was told that the monthly fee was not even half of what we paid in Manila. Best of all, I saw how my little girl truly grew into a young ballerina with her form totally changed, her moves leveled up, and her elegance while dancing unraveled. (Of course, you can say a mother will always be biased. But that is every mother’s right and privilege.) I knew we were getting our money’s worth for her ballet training.

For several months Himig was passionate about ballet. She would panic when we are running late for rehearsals. She always wanted to be 30 minutes earlier than the call time. She wanted to make sure she had the right leotards, tights, and ballet shoes. Her goal was to eventually graduate to the point shoes. I have never heard her say she wanted to stop ballet — until two weeks ago when, with tears in her eyes, she said, “Mom, I think I don’t want to continue anymore.” I knew I had to drop my kitchen work and sit with my daughter to let her unburden her heart.

It turns out she was starting to feel the pressure of the upcoming exams. Her rehearsals were daily and she was learning all the French vocabulary for the choreography and routines. And she was so frustrated because she couldn’t do a proper pirouette. It was a dream world that seemed to start becoming a nightmare for my nine-year-old ballerina. What I saw, however, as all mothers in my place would, was a great opportunity to show my daughter how to walk the road to success. A perfect teaching moment to help her understand that quitters never succeed and successful people are never afraid to try and fail.

The day of the exam came. Everyone was tense, including the mothers. One mother even added to my tension by constantly pointing out what was wrong with Himig’s hair, outfit, and pretty much everything else. I finally had to tell her, “Mommy, okay lang ‘yan.  If she passes the exam, we are happy. If she fails, it is still okay!” She quietly walked away.

It was heartwarming to see Teacher Girlie Royeca, owner of the Royeca School of Ballet and my daughter’s mentor, huddling the young ballerinas around her for prayer. She was obviously more tense than us mothers, but she exuded confidence on which her students anchored themselves before finally gliding into the examination room one by one.

Teacher Girlie gathers her little ballerinas for prayer before the exams. Photo credit: Grace Gaston-Dousel

I had the privilege of sitting for a few minutes with Teacher Girlie while the exams were happening behind closed doors. Listening to her, I had a glimpse into the life of a ballerina. “I have been teaching ballet for 30 years. It grows in your heart,” she said of her journey into becoming a ballet teacher. “I started when I was eight but I felt that I loved ballet only when I was around 14 years old. It was only then that I began to feel passionate about it.” Though originally from General Santos City in Mindanao, Teacher Girlie took courses in Manila, including those offered at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Though a shy and timid girl, she became good at ballet. But her career was almost cut short after she got married and started having children. Her husband asked her to focus on their growing family. She thought she would never be able to wear her point shoes again.

But passion is something you cannot live without. It will follow you wherever you go. Teacher Girlie’s mentor touched base with her and encouraged her to set up a ballet school in GenSan because there was none there. She thought it was a ridiculous idea since she had no capital and she was a mother of young children. But her mentor prevailed and got her back on the dance studio in no time. She got back in shape, took more courses, and finally the first Royeca School of Ballet opened in General Santos City, with her own daughters among the first batch of students. When she moved to Davao, she brought her passion with her and the school in Jacinto Extension was born. She has not looked back every since. Now, her daughter operates the school in GenSan while she runs the school in Davao.

Himig (ballerina #2) and her classmates at Royeca School of Ballet. Photo credit: Grace Gaston-Dousel

Himig came out of the examination room after an hour all sweaty but with a smile on her face.“I made mistakes but it’s OK,” she said. “Now I can breathe. It’s finished. I’ll just have to wait for the results.” I looked at my daughter and I felt like I was listening to a young woman who had embraced the realities of life. My heart could only ponder at the thought of how months of ballet rehearsals has allowed my child to mature. “Let’s go eat pizza for lunch!” she exclaimed with a smile as she took off her ballet shoes. My nine-year-old was back in my arms.

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