Ballet mom Baby Franco and ballerina daughter Marinette: Sticking it out through thick and thin

Ballet mom Baby Franco and ballerina daughter Marinette: Sticking it out through thick and thin

Ballet Manila junior company member Marinette Franco was named a finalist in the 2017 Asian Grand Prix with her performance of Raymonda Tableau Variation. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

By Jv Ramos

Much like in other venues where children come to learn, the Ballet Manila studio often sees parents who tirelessly bring their young ones to classes. And while it's enough for most parents to assure that their sons and daughters make it to their dance training, there are those who choose to do more to support their children's dreams.

Such is the case of Asuncion “Baby” Franco, who's been with her daughter Marinette – a member of Ballet Manila 2, BM’s junior company – from day one. From simply accompanying and watching her daughter receive instructions from the teachers, Baby has been wearing many hats.

Baby Franco goes the extra mile to ensure her daughter Marinette is able to handle the demands of being a ballerina and a regular student. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

She is the teenage ballerina's “personal secretary” when it comes to schoolwork. Being a dedicated member of Ballet Manila, Marinette has had to skip school many times and would later on find herself buried in a mountain of requirements to make up for her absences. Thankfully, Mommy Baby is always around to keep track of the teachers' demands and what her daughter has already accomplished.

During Marinette’s initial years with BM2, it was also Baby who would get an excuse letter from the ballet company and write one of her own to submit to the school whenever her daughter had a show and had to miss classes. "Mabuti nga na noong nagtagal, naintidihan na rin nila kung ano ang ginagawa ni Marinette." (Thankfully, later on, they understood what Marinette has been doing.)

"Before po ako nag-finalist sa AGP (Asian Grand Prix), ang akala po ng school ay nag-e-excuse lang ako para hindi pumasok," says the teenager with a laugh. "Pero talagang nahirapan po ako noong una sa pag-balance. Ang dami kasing group work sa St. Scho [St. Scholastica], so naapektuhan talaga ang mga kagrupo ko dahil sa ballet schedule ko." (Prior to being an AGP finalist, the school probably thought I was just making up excuses to miss school. But yes, being a ballerina and a student is hard, especially in the beginning. St. Scho has a lot of group work, so my classmates were quite affected whenever my ballet schedule was in conflict with our meetings.)

Marinette (second from left) was part of the Ballet Manila delegation that participated in the 2016 Dance Open International Ballet Festival in Russia, along with Joshua Enciso, Nicole Barroso and Alvin Dictado, with their mentor Osias Barroso (center). Photo from Marinette Franco’s Facebook page

Eventually, Marinette figured out how to deal with the issue. She'd ask her group mates to start the project and she would in turn take care of the finishing and polishing after her ballet training.

Going back to her Mom's many hats, Baby's organizational skills also proved to be useful in Marinette's ballet journey. Aside from ensuring that her daughter's ballet requirements are always complete, she would keep track of her teenager's progress, and if she were to detect a particular struggle, she'd find her own solutions to help Marinette improve.

"Noong bata siya, ang ginagawa ko lang ay mag-comment, 'Bakit di mo magawa ang pinapagawa ng teacher?' Ngayon, kapag may move siyang hindi nagagawa or may bagong choreography na ipinagagawa sa kanya, naghahanap ako ng mga videos para matulungan siya," elaborates Baby. "Kung ikaw kasi ang ina, kilalang-kilala mo ang body type niya, so alam mo rin kung anong mga videos ang makakatulong." (When she was younger, all I did was comment, 'How come you're not able to do what the teacher asked?' Now, whenever she finds a particular move that's challenging or when she's assigned to dance a new role, I look for videos that may help her. Being her mom, I am very familiar with her body type, so I know which video can be of aid to her.)

In addition to being a ballet coach, Baby is also Marinette's personal nutritionist.

"Mahilig po kasi ako sa sweets eh," admits the teenager. (I'm very fond of sweets.)

In Russia, Marinette attended dance classes and interacted with ballerinas from all over the world. Photo from Marinette Franco’s Facebook page

"Kaya kailangan mag-ingat," adds the mother. "Pero may nakahanda naman akong coffee crumble kapag sobrang down na siya." (That's why she needs to be cautious. Not to worry, the coffee crumble is always ready whenever she's feeling down.)
Baby reveals that Marinette, just like other ballerinas, is easily cheered up by her favorite flavor of ice cream.

Baby, too, is Marinette's masseuse. Whenever the latter is in pain, the former gives her a massage at home, which includes aromatherapy.

"Opo, marami po siyang natutunan gawin dahil sa kagustuhan kong mag-ballet," confirms Marinette with a very grateful tone. (Yes, she has acquired many new skills because of my love for ballet.)

"At di lang sa ballet. Pati rin nga ang bangs niya ngayon ako na rin ang naggupit," jokes the mother. (And my skills aren't all ballet-related. I was the one who did her bangs.)

But Baby's best role, however, is simply being Marinette's mother or the person who always wants what’s best for her child.

Baby Franco says she enjoys watching Marinette (seen here in Swan Lake, facing the camera) performing onstage. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

"Kagaya ng ibang mag-ina, may mga moments din naman kami na hindi kami nagkakasundo," starts Baby. "Like kapag may mga overnight at hindi ko masyado kilala ‘yung nag-imbita, hindi ko talaga siya pinapayagan. Kapag nangyayari iyon, sumasama talaga ang loob niya sa akin. Ang hirap kapag ganu’n! Hindi ka lang nasasaktan, naiiwanan ka rin kapag kayo'y naglalakad. Pero, bilang ina, kailangan mo lakasan ang loob mo. Kung sabi mo ay hindi pwede, hindi talaga pwede." (Like other moms and daughters, we don't always get along. Like if she's invited by someone we hardly know for an overnight, I really don't allow her to go. When that happens, she really shows her disappointment towards me. And that's really hard. Not only do you get hurt on the inside, you'd have to keep up with her pace when you're walking together. But as a mother, you have to be firm with your decision. No means no.)

Asked if she gets annoyed by her mother over protectiveness, the soon-to-be-college teenager replies yes with any hesitation. "Pero, recently ko lang na-realize na kung ginawa ko pa ito, mawawalan na rin po ng energy for ballet. So hindi lang sa school ako mahihirapan, pati na rin sa ballet. Ang mangyayari ay mag-sa-suffer talaga ang both." (It's only recently that I realized that if I had done this, I really wouldn't have the energy for ballet. So, it's not just school that I'll have difficulties in, my ballet will also be affected. If I always had it my way, both school and ballet would suffer.)

Marinette jokingly makes a face as mom Baby talks about their occasional disagreements. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Baby’s mindfulness about her daughter’s well-being extends to cautioning her about biking or even wearing heels. “Baka kasi masugatan o baka may mangyari sa kanya,” she points out. (She might get injured or something might happen to her.)

At the end of the day, it's really not about being strict or overprotective; it's about guaranteeing that Marinette will be able to pursue her passion. Baby is well-aware of how much ballet means to her daughter; thus, she's determined to safeguard Marinette's place onstage.

The supermom, however, is quick to remind others: “Ang sasayaw ay ang anak mo at hindi ikaw! Hindi tumagal dito si Marinette dahil gusto ko. Gusto niya talaga ang ballet kaya nagtatagal siya.” (The one who's dancing is your child and not you. Marinette hasn't made it this far because I'd like her to. She's been with BM for many years because she truly is passionate about ballet.) 

Baby reveals that ever since her daughter was a tween, her body would always itch to be in the studio. Upon realizing that, she and her husband just let Marinette keep attending classes. Ballet was actually an interest that began when they were still based in their hometown in Nueva Ecija and continued when they moved to Manila.

Getting pointers from a mentor in one of classes during the 2016 Beijing Dance Performance Series for Dance Schools. Photo from Marinette Franco’s Facebook page

"Wala na pong naging say si Dad, kasi nga nakikita niya akong nag-e-enjoy," confirms Marinette.  (Dad didn't have a say anymore when it came to ballet because he saw how I really enjoyed it.)

"Pero hindi siya nag-e-enjoy kapag nakikita niyang nag-ka-klase si Marinette," notes Baby as she giggles. "Siya raw kasi ang nasasaktan para sa mga bata. Takot din siya kapag may partnering. Parang hihimatayin daw siya kapag nakikita niya na tinataas ang mga babae." (What's not enjoyable for him though is watching Marinette's class. He claims that it's he who feels the pain of the ballerinas. He also can't stand seeing them work on partnering. He feels that he'll faint whenever he sees Marinette being lifted high.)

Marinette celebrates with her classmates after their school project and shoe business Prima Facie won first runner-up honors out of 24 companies in a recent Beijing competition. Photo from Jose Isabel Rea’s Facebook page

Though Baby appears more resolute – she, in fact, travels abroad to show her support for Marinette and her friends (like when she went to Hong Kong when BM competed in AGP) – she can't help but be concerned whenever things don't go as planned.

"Ang pinakamasakit sa pagiging isang ina ng ballerina ay nakikitang nasasaktan ang anak mo." Here, the mom isn't only referring to the stage booboos, but the times when Marinette feels that she's not able to dance her best. "Nararamdaman mo lahat ‘yan bilang ina." (What hurts the most about being a ballet mom is seeing your daughter get hurt.)

How does Baby deal with these moments? She puts on a strong face and reminds her daughter that the only way to be better is for her to work harder. "Walang makakatulong sa iyo kung hindi ikaw," puts forward the parent. "Iyan (to provide encouragement) lang ang maitutulong ko sa kanya." (No can help you but yourself. To encourage her is the only thing we, moms, can do for our ballerina daughters.)

Looking back at what her parents have been doing for her all these years, Marinette advises moms and dads to let their ballet-loving daughters be. "It may just be that activity they’re looking for – the one they’ll love and be happy doing."

"At diyan naman ako nag-e-enjoy. Gustong-gusto kong nakikita ang anak kong masaya at nangyayari iyan kapag siya ay nag-ba-ballet." (And, that's actually where I experience enjoyment. I love it when I see my daughter happy, and that happens when she dances ballet.)

Indeed, for Baby, it's witnessing Marinette’s happiness that makes all her hard work and sacrifices worth it. 

Starting college soon, Marinette will continue her balancing act between ballet and school but knows she can cope with her mom’s help. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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