Moms and Dads

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde: Strength Found in Grace

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde shares there’s strength to be found in the graceful art of ballet dancing.

Being graceful and being strong are normally not mixed together. But for celebrated prima ballerina and CEO and Artistic Director of Ballet Manila Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, they are intertwined. She shares, “Classical ballet challenges your body to move in directions it’s not used to. That’s why ballet dancers are also considered athletes. It’s 7-8 hours of training and teaching our bodies to move in ways that anatomically, it’s not supposed to while hiding the effort we’re putting in.”

Grace During the Pandemic

The entertainment industry suffered a big blow, especially for performing arts companies like Ballet Manila. Performances were canceled and even classes had to be transferred to the online setting. “It was hard at first, especially for some of us who really perform live,” shares Lisa. “It was a terrible thing to happen who was still actively performing on stage.”

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde however knew she had to make things work for her performing company. “I considered myself fortunate that I retired 5 years ago. The pandemic, professionally, didn’t hit me as much but it did hit my company. The school missed out on the recitals, summer intensives so, we had to transfer it online. And it worked! We’ve had 6 dance recitals, 100% iDance, and more than 200 students online. We even just finished 2 live performances in Star City!”

Photo from Lisa Macuja

A Performing Parent

Dancing can change one’s body to the point that even Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, after long years of dancing, didn’t expect to be a parent. She admits, “I honestly didn’t think I’d become a parent because there were problems initially like doctors thought I had an ectopic pregnancy or I was losing the baby. It took me a while to get back to shape after pregnancy, breastfeeding, and having kids. Stopping for a while made me want to dance again. I missed it when I was pregnant.”

Photo from Lisa Macuja

As a dedicated performer, Lisa found it hard to decline many performances and competitions, especially one’s abroad. But the hardest part was the time management. She shares, “I think the hardest part really of being a working mother is that there’s not enough time. Juggling and managing your time in between work, your kids, and your husband, you’ll also need to find time for yourself. But career-wise, what I had to give up — the performance tours were the hardest thing to give up.”

Photo from Lisa Macuja

Devotion to the Arts

Being a ballerina wasn’t really a part of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s career path until she genuinely began to enjoy it. “I just kept at it. At first, I wasn’t that good at it. But I kept at it because when I would stop, I missed it very, very much. So, the opportunity came eventually when I was graduating high school. I made a deal with my parents: give me 2 years. If I don’t make it as a ballerina then, I’ll stop and go to college. Get a degree and stick to a more normal career path.”

But Ballet clearly didn’t want to let Lisa go just yet as she received a scholarship for the Academy of Russian Ballet. She shares, “I think that was the turning point for me. I graduated with honors and was invited by the Kirov Ballet. That changed the course of my life. I got the ballet education and a foundation to build a school especially because of the exceptional training I received.”

The exceptional training she received led to developing a style of ballet that everyone hailed her for. “My style is more of classical with a mix of Vaganova method. It’s basically Russian ballet with classical.”

Photo from Lisa Macuja

Strength in Grace

The large logical leap between strength and grace doesn’t exist for Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, especially in the context of classical ballet. “It’s [classical ballet] extremely difficult. It’s physically abnormal to do. You’re not really supposed to twirl on your toes anatomically. You’re also not supposed to twirl your hips or have your knees facing outward instead of the front. That’s one of the requirements of classical ballet. It’s very athletic and abnormal, getting painful and uncomfortable. Doing something that your body is not used to and we’re also supposed to make it look easy. That’s how strength and grace work together.”

To develop that perfect balance of strength and grace isn’t something instantaneous. Lisa shares, “It’s not something we can just cut and paste. It’s not instant. To achieve that 5 minutes on stage is a lifetime of not just training but a lot of experiencing, experimenting, and coaching.”

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