Ballerina Shaira Comeros: Shining through the imperfections

Ballerina Shaira Comeros: Shining through the imperfections

Despite being very critical of herself, Shaira Comeros has learned to work with and overcome her flaws to become the best ballerina she can be.  Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

By Jv Ramos

Two years ago, Shaira Comeros was named the Most Promising Female Dancer at the Asian Grand Prix (AGP) International Ballet Competition. It was a recognition that she did not expect, a challenge she embraced, and a moment that continues to inspire her whenever nerves and doubts seem to take control of her body.

"Sa akin po, pare-pareho lang ang feeling sa bawat competition (For me, I feel the same with every competition)," says the 18-year-old who was introduced to the world of dance by her parents, for they were in the business of making ballet costumes. "Kung ano ang naramdaman ko noon, ganu’n pa rin ang nararamdaman ko ngayon. Lagi pong may kaba bago pumasok sa stage.” (Whatever I felt back then, I still feel now. I always feel very nervous before entering the stage.)

Shaira loves ballet so much that she’s willing to work hard to be able to keep dancing for years to come. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

She expounds on what she goes through in every competition: "Naiisip ko kung kaya ba ito, or kung ma-a-apply ko ba ang natutunan ko sa klase.” (Thoughts like if I'm capable of dancing the part or if I would be able to execute all that I've learned in class enter my head.) But as soon as the music plays, all the doubts and overthinking are dropped and all that's seen is Shaira dancing her heart out. “Ayokong magkaroon ng regrets.  Ayokong masayang ang pinaghirapan ko at pinaghirapan ng mga teachers. So, kahit may kaba, pinapagpatuloy ko pa rin.” (I don't want to have regrets. I don't want to throw away all my hard work and the hard work of my teachers). “I just think, 'Now’s my time to shine.'"

And with that mindset, Shaira was able to follow up her stellar 2016 AGP moment with more achievements. In the latter part of 2016, she made it to the final round of the CCP Ballet Competition. In 2017, she received the Ani ng Dangal award given by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), made it to the finals of the 2017 AGP and shared the Silver Prize with other members of Ballet Manila in the International Dance Festival in Vietnam. In February 2018, she, together with Brian Sevilla, another accomplished Ballet Manila junior dancer, took bronze for their pas de deux at the Australian Teachers of Dance (ATOD) International Dance Competition in Bangkok.

Ballet, for Shaira, has clearly gone from a childhood pastime into a serious pursuit. She, in fact, uses a very strong word to explain why she shows up at the studio regularly. "Commitment. Commitment po sa ballet. ‘Yun po talaga ang reason kung bakit pumupunta ako dito sa studio.” (Commitment. It's my commitment to ballet that makes me come to the studio.)

Shaira gets last-minute tips from her idol, Ballet Manila principal Katherine Barkman, just before leaving with the BM delegation for the 2017 Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

"Dati po, naiisip ko na I'm missing out (Before, I used to think that I'm missing out because of ballet)," the ballerina admits. "Pero ngayon kasi nakikita ko na ballet provided me with this future. Kung sila [people her age] nag-wo-worry kung ano ang kukunin nila sa college, ako, may nakikitang future na dito. Of course, magka-college pa rin ako, pero mayroon din akong future dito.” (But now, I see that ballet has provided me with this future. If my classmates are worrying about what they're going to take up in college, I already see a future here. Of course, I'm still planning to go to college, but I also have a future in ballet.)

Being young, accomplished and very dedicated, Shaira confronts many challenges, and among these is the pressure of living up to people's expectations. "Nakaka-pressure po talaga (I really feel the pressure)," comments Shaira, when asked how she feels about being labelled as "promising" and "one of the company's future stars."

Practicing their moves prior to the Australian Teachers of Dance (ATOD) International Dance Competition in Bangkok: Lyssa Apilado and Alvin Dictado (left) and Shaira Comeros and Brian Sevilla.

"Pero, we really work hard to live up to their expectations. Ayaw ko rin masayang ang opportunities na ibinibigay nila sa amin.” (But we really pour so much hard work to meet their expectations. I, too, don't want to waste the opportunities that the company is giving us.)

Shaira reveals there are days when ballet can be quite trying. "Tuloy-tuloy na rehearsals, and then, there’s class. Sobrang pagod na pagod ako at nada-down din minsan, pero sa bahay ko lang po ito talaga nilalabas.” (After going through several rehearsals, we still have class. There are times when I get really tired and get unmotivated, but I only confront those feelings at home.)

In order to completely let go of the negativity, this quiet yet fierce dancer shares, "Kapag stressed po ako sa ballet, tinatanong ko sa sarili ko, ‘Bakit nga ba ako nandito?’ And then, naiisip ko lang ang nakaraan – ‘yung kung gaano na ako nag-improve or ‘yung progress ko, ‘yung mga pinagdaanan ko na, ‘yung mga achievements. Tapos ayun, parang nawawala na ang pagka-down ko at itinutuloy ko lang.” (Whenever I'm stressed out because of ballet, I ask myself, ‘'Why am I here again?' And then, I recall all that I've been through with the company – how I’ve improved through the years or my progress as a ballerina, the hardships I’ve undergone and the achievements I've done. And then, there! I'm suddenly uplifted and I continue dancing.)

Shaira Comeros and Brian Sevilla (right) won the bronze prize in pas de deux at the ATOD competition, while Alvin  Dictado and Lyssa Apilado bagged honorable mention in the same category.

Shaira's "itinutuloy ko lang" statement may sound very casual, but really she is well-aware that moving on, rehearsing again and perfecting the steps is the only way for her to succeed in ballet. "Hard work po talaga ang kailangan dito (What's really needed to succeed here is hard work)," she notes.

Seeing the example of BM artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde inspires Shaira. "Hindi po sinabi ito nang direkta. Pero ang natutunan ko talaga kay Ma’am Lise ay kahit hindi ganu’n kaganda ang katawan mo, hindi ka dapat mag-hold back. Di siya ang ideal body for a ballet dancer, pero tignan mo kung saan siya ngayon (This wasn't told to me directly. But what I really learned from Ma'am Lise is that even if your body structure has many flaws, this shouldn't hold you back. I mean, just look at Ma'am Lise. She basically doesn't have the ideal ballerina body, and yet look what she has achieved.)

Shaira casts a critical eye on her own situation: “I’m bow-legged, have a short torso, and then ‘yung paa, hindi rin ganu’n kaganda. At dahil nga ganito ang body structure ko, hindi rin ganu’n kaganda ang lines ko. Sa strengths naman po, 'yung high jumps ko po and 'yung turns.” (I’m bow-legged, have a short torso, and then my legs aren’t also very pretty. And because of this body structure, my lines also don’t look very good. As for my strengths, I'm a strong jumper and turner.)

In Gerardo Francisco’s Muro-Ami, Shaira and her fellow dancers portray young divers forced to engage in the illegal form of fishing. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

To address this weakness of hers, she keeps in mind Sir Shaz’s advice to all his students: “’Kailangan mong hanapin ‘yung lines na babagay sa katawan mo.’ Ito po ‘yung lines na hindi mapapansin ng audience ang structure ng katawan ko or ang weakness ko. Iyan po talaga ang pinag-aaralan ko ngayon.” (‘You need to find the lines that would match your body type.’ He means the lines wherein the audience won’t notice my body structure or my weakness. Mastering these is what I'm working on now in the studio.)

It's no surprise therefore that this ballerina looks up to Katherine Barkman, a principal of Ballet Manila. Aside from having mastered the lines that go well with her body structure, Shaira says she also admires Katherine for her steadfast devotion to ballet. "Siya po talaga ang idol ko. Kasi tuwing nakikita ko siya, napaka-hardworking niya. Iba siya talaga! Kahit hindi siya ang nasa center, nandoon pa rin siya sa isang tabi at inaaral ang kanyang mga combinations. Tapos, kahit naka-off siya, pumapasok pa rin siya para mag-rehearse.” (She truly is my idol. Because whenever I see her, I always see that she's such a hard worker. She's unique! Even if it's not her turn in the center, she continues to learn her combinations in one corner of the studio. And then, even if it's her day-off, she still comes to the studio to rehearse)." 

Shaira, Brian, Lyssa and Alvin get to share their stories of competing in Bangkok in a group interview. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By following the ways of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Katherine Barkman, Shaira hopes to better herself as a ballerina, and to of course, dance the role of Kitri someday, a role she's been eyeing since she was a scholar of the company. "Nag-flamenco kasi ako (I trained in flamenco before)," discloses the teenager. "So feeling ko ma-a-apply ko rin ‘yon sa pagiging Kitri. Parang ang saya lang talaga ng character ni Kitri. I think ma-e-enjoy ko ang pagsayaw sa kanya (And so I feel that I would be able to apply my flamenco to the role of Kitri. And, Kitri really seems like a fun role to play. I feel that I'm going to enjoy dancing the role.)

After getting caught up in a fun discussion about other roles she'd like to play and danseurs she'd like to be partnered with, Shaira concludes, "Dito sa ballet, ang unang-una mong makukuha ay displina, and then, a future. Oo, may pressure, pero work hard lang.” (Here in ballet, discipline's the first thing you gain, and then, a future. Yes, there's pressure, but all one has to do is work hard.)

For Shaira Comeros, ballet has turned from a childhood pastime into a serious pursuit. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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