Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fulfilling Our Ballet Dreams

At one point in a typical 90s or 80s little girl's life, she wanted to be a ballerina. I also was in that generation where sometimes every Saturday afternoon or morning would be spent in the neighborhood ballet studio. I took ballet in the community ballet school among other little girls who also had the same dream.

I guess that one reason for little girls of my generation to have their ballerina dreams was Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja. She was in every magazine page and most little girls wanted to be like her.

Whatever role we see her dance onstage or occasional TV appearances or even if we remember her from the first-ever Whisper commercial back in the 90s, she has made an impact not just with ballet aficionados but in every little girl who begged her parents to enrol her in ballet class promising to do well in school as it will not be a distraction.

I was a happy little ballerina  until I stopped after 3-4 years since I got teased and bullied by the little girls who found ballet boring or for weakling unathletic girls. Besides, I thought I wouldn't need ballet in life anyway, and focused instead on serious things in life such as math.

I didn't realize though that years after bidding ballet goodbye, I would take up pole dancing and I would later then have to dig up from stock memory ballet things that I would need to make sense in dance world. I had my taste of ladies' ballet class a year ago, by chance. My first day in class described ballet as the ultimate leg day. I was sore for days, and this is coming from someone who loves leg day and has been doing pole for quite some time. I still occasionally review my ballet classes via online tutorials if I want dance to be my exercise of the day.

Just  last week, I was invited to attend a ballet class in the newest ballet school in the country - the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila. The class would be taught by none other than our childhood idol, Lisa Macuja herself. I said yes to the invitation and blocked that entire day for the event. Yes guys. I was that excited.

The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila is located at the fourth floor of Fisher Mall in Quezon City. This gives a chance for people in the North area to learn ballet without travelling all the way to Pasay City especially in the horrid traffic we've been facing now.

Nataranjasana by the front desk

At the reception hall are photos of Lisa's performances. Truly #dancergoals and #fitspiration.

The dance studio is every dancer's dream, with the floor engineered for dancing to make it friendly for the joints especially when the dancer does his or her leaps and grand jete's. Lots of space and perfect lighting for pre-class selfies as well.

I donned my soft ballet shoes and practiced my point.

We were given an introduction of the school by Lisa Macuja, as she describes that she begun teaching at her parents' porch offering classes to young boys, as there was a need for more male ballet dancers. Classes were only given on Saturday mornings as she was still performing full time. Now being retired from performing, she can now devote her time to teaching ballet. Aside from classical and modern ballet, they offer classes for little children (Creative Movement, Twinkle Toes) who would like to start as well as Ballet for Fitness class, for people with no background in ballet and would want to learn it for fitness purposes. They are also developing a ballet class specifically for senior citizens. Apparently, dance, in whatever form it may be, is proven to be effective in preventing dementia and Alzheimer's disease better than crossword puzzles. What a fun way to stay alert and fit at the same time! Also, it just goes to show that it's never too late to start dancing or stay active. Yoga has proven it. Pole has proven it. Now ballet proves it.

To inspire us further, the Ballet Manila company dancers gave performances.

Before the lessons, Lisa explains a few ballet pointers

Here, she demonstrates and explains the importance of turn-out, which we externally rotate from the hips, which increases the range of motion so we can lift our legs higher. It also provides better lines, which she explained next.

Dancer's lines are how a dancer looks in a performance. Straight lines are pretty, so there's a lot of body awareness involved. It's not just moving and coordination, it's also making sure that your lines are correct. For example, when you extend a leg out, make sure that the knees are locked and toes are pointed. At the same time, do not forget to lock that standing leg and not to collapse on the hips. Oh, and note also the lines of the arms.  Told you guys, ballet isn't just a physical but a mental exercise.

Our first lesson had us on the floor, seated in butterfly position, which already had us in a turn-out position (hips are externally rotated). Aside from that, we had to be aware to maintain a rectangle - neutral spine, shoulders aligned with each other and hips aligned so that if we connect dots from our hip points and shoulder points, we form a rectangle. When I sat like this, I thought to myself, "This is actually very good posture!" Having awareness in that rectangle and line is not only very good for ballet, but it's also practical in posture and everyday life.

We then proceeded to the barre where we did super basic ballet moves - the plie and the grand plie. The plie isn't just bending your knees and standing up. You have to maintain your rectangles, lock your knees when you recover, and also, no weight on the barre. The barre is just support because eventually, we all move to the center with no barre.

Here we did the same thing on the barre but we added arm movements, which was called port de bras, and again we had to be aware of proper form of the hands while trying not to topple over. While on releve, I had to avoid not falling flat on my face and crush the person in front of me by applying yoga principle - focus on one unmoving point in the room.

Note to self: "Do Not Fall Do Not Fall DO NOT FALL!!!!"

Even in just basic movements, there's still a lot going on in the brain and transferring that to body movement is already exercise, and now I understand why this is really good brain exercise as well as body exercise. In yoga, our toes are touching, heels separated, thighs engaged. Here, it's turn out in first position. Pole has other principles as well.  I still had to turn off some pole and yoga autopilot modes as I go into ballet mode. Although ballet body orientation is different from pole or yoga, in some ways, it will really benefit me in both my current modes of fitness. Being aware of pointed toes for example, and engaging the quads is very important in pole, as we all know, our teachers are allergic to lazy flexed feed and unlocked knees.

First-ever ballet students, yaaay!

I super had an awesome time and I would really like to take more classes. The school has an amazing faculty of teachers, including Lisa herself to guide the students in their ballet classes whether they want to take up classical ballet or just want to get the body moving in a low-impact workout. Just like any other workout, I had leg DOMS for days but it was a good kind of sore because there were other muscles in my body that were activated.

I couldn't pass up the chance to have a photo with my ballet teacher and childhood idol! She's super nice. I like how she related ballet to life, giving it a practical approach, especially the pointers on posture, which is being neglected nowadays.

I may be way past the super ballet dancer training stage, who start at young ages of 7 or 8 but it doesn't mean that titas like myself can't slip on our ballet shoes and go to a ballet class. As a form of fitness, this is good cardio and the ultimate leg day. It also develops mental skills and body awareness. It may not be super intense like crossfit or HIIT but it's a very good workout that also develops core strength, muscle coordination, and flexibility. A dancer can benefit from improving their lines, points, and ability to pick up steps for choreo purposes.

For those living in the north area, and are curious about attending ballet or if you missed ballet when you were young, it's not too late to get up there and enrol in a class. Like in any form of fitness, you don't need to be super fit or flexi to begin with. Most athletes and dancers started from zero. Who knows this may be the fitness program you fall in love with? I also encourage to bring friends or family (like your mom, sister, cousin, even your grandma if you want!). Working out is so much fun with friends, right?

Image Credits:

Class Photos by Luther Abcede

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