Why Monique Valera refuses to quit ballet

Why Monique Valera refuses to quit ballet

Although she gave her all in her competition piece at the Asian Grand Prix Manila Regionals, Monique Valera was surprised when she was named first placer in her division. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

By Jv Ramos

Sixteen-year-old Ballet Manila trainee Monique Valera remembers clearly the auditions she had to go through before becoming part of The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet and eventually, the company.

The first round of auditions happened when she was around ten. It was when Ballet Manila teachers visited her school and held open tryouts. “Hindi ko po masyadong naintindihan ang announcement tungkol dito, so nagulat na lang ako na pinapataas ang mga paa namin… Opo, noong time na iyon wala talaga akong alam sa ballet.” (I didn’t completely understand the school’s announcement about the auditions, so I was surprised that they were asking us to lift our legs during the tryouts. Indeed, during that time, I had no idea about ballet.)  

Ballet may bring her many struggles and pains, but Ballet Manila trainee Monique Valera can’t imagine her life without it now. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

After the assessment that determined she had the right body structure and flexibility, Monique was among those asked to come to the Ballet Manila studio for another audition. It was an invitation her parents encouraged her accept, since she had never been part of any extracurricular activity in school, even sports-related ones. “Takot po kasi ako sa bola,” chuckles the teenager. “Kaya mabuti na lang dumating ang ballet. After ng klase kasi, wala din naman akong ginagawa kundi higa-higa lang.” (I’m afraid of sports balls… So it’s a good thing that ballet came along. Because back then, after class, you’d find me just lying around the house.)

Monique describes her auditions in BM as weird and funny, mainly because she still had zero knowledge about ballet. “Noong sinabi nilang, “Jump!”, ang ginawa kong talon tulad ng mga ginagawa ko sa mga jump shot. Nakataas ang mga kamay ko!” (When they instructed us to jump, what I did was the kind of jump I would do in jump-shot photos. My hands were even raised!)

Soon after everyone demonstrated their jumping ability, Monique and three others were set aside from the group. “Akala ko talaga na kami ang matatanggal, pero kami lang pala ang napili.” (I thought we were being eliminated, but as it turned out, we were the only ones who were chosen.)

Monique (center) dances with Angelika Tagupa (left) and Marinette Franco as ethereal sylphs in Ballet Manila’s Chopiniana, restaged in Deux, the company’s 23rd season finale. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Being a tween when she started doing ballet, she only saw it as a hobby at first. Then ballet became one of those obstacles that made school life difficult. Aside from struggling to balance her academics and training, her classmates would hardly invite her out since they knew that she was busy with ballet. “Iyon ang naging point na gusto ko na mag-quit. At inisip ko na talaga siyang gawin.” (That was the point when I wanted to quit. And I really thought of pushing through with it.)

Monique however changed her mind since she realized life without ballet was worse than the struggles that came with ballet. She reflects: “Napaisip ako na kung wala na ang ballet, sobrang boring na ng buhay. Wala rin akong gagawin after school kundi humiga-higa ulit. Tapos, na-realize ko rin na hindi ito hobby lang. Napamahal na rin ang ballet sa akin. Kahit masakit sa katawan at nakakakaba sa stage, masaya po ako dito.” (I thought about it more and realized that if I no longer did ballet, my life would be so boring. I would just go back to my old way of doing nothing after school. I also realized that ballet was no longer just a hobby for me. I had fallen in love with it. Yes, it’s painful to the body and nerve-wracking when you’re onstage. But doing this makes me happy.)

Performing her contemporary piece in the 2018 CCP Ballet Competition. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Recently, this teenage ballerina placed first in the Junior B Division of the Asian Grand Prix  Manila Regionals, securing for herself a spot in the AGP International Ballet Competition to be held in Hong Kong in August. “Hindi ko pa po masyadong iniisip ang gagawin ko sa Hong Kong. Ako po kasi ang type na madaling ma-pressure at ma-insecure, lalo na kung napapanood ko ang iba.” (I don’t want to think too much about Hong Kong yet. I’m the type of person who easily gets pressured and insecure, especially if I watch the other competitors.)

Monique admits that while she was backstage and waiting for her turn to compete at the regionals, she had to tell a fellow competitor from BM to stop talking to her since she needed complete silence to focus. “Pero kapag sa stage po, di ko na masyadong iniisip ang steps. Nag-e-enjoy na lang po ako. Kapag sa steps kasi ako naka-focus, parang robot ang dating ko sa audience.” (But when I’m onstage already, I no longer think about the steps. I just enjoy the dancing experience. If I were to focus on the steps, I know that I come off like a robot to the audience.)

Monique (rightmost) was part of the corps in Ballet Manila’s Swan Lake in 2017 featuring principal ballerina Abigail Oliveiro in the lead role. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Clearly one who knows herself, this sixteen-year-old is aware of the areas she needs to work on. When it comes to competitions, it’s developing her self-confidence, so she can forget about her insecurities. In performances, it’s learning how to connect with the audience.

Kapag sumasayaw ako, ang laging sinasabi ni Sir Jay [Jonathan Janolo, BM ballet master], “Ay, ‘Charming! Charming!’ Ang pagiging charming kasi ang wala ko,” Monique candidly admits. (Whenever I would dance, Sir Jay would comment, ‘Charming! Charming!’ That’s because it’s being charming that I lack.)

Monique says she really looks up to former BM principal ballerina Dawna Mangahas because she was one of those who projected a strong presence the minute she stepped on stage. “Idol ko po talaga si Ate Dawna dahil napaka-effortless ang pagiging charming niya. Kahit hindi siya ngumiti, ang charming pa rin niya.” (I really idolize Ate Dawna because she’s naturally charming. Even if she’s not smiling, she charms everyone when she dances.)

More used to delicate roles such as the Giselle variation she danced in the CCP Ballet Competition, Monique says the forceful Myrtha from the same ballet is actually her dream role. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Monique’s dream role is a part that her idol Dawna performed before – Myrtha, from the iconic ballet Giselle. In the story, Myrtha is the queen of the Wilis, the vengeful spirits who exact revenge on the men who have done them wrong by forcing them to dance to their death. “Gusto ko ang hugot niya, ang pagiging bitter… Tama, mas gusto ko ang mga kontrabida roles,“ she raves.  “Pero baka hanggang dream lang kasi sobrang mahinhin akong sumayaw.”  (I like how intense she is, her bitterness… Yes, I do like antagonist roles more. But maybe this role will just remain a dream since I’m a meek dancer.)

Despite having to exert more effort to be charming onstage and to convince audiences that she’s a particular character, Monique concludes, “Kahit mahirap, ayaw kong mag-quit. Kapag sumuko ka kasi, wala ang mga learnings. Hindi madalian ang ballet.” (But even if it’s challenging for my personality, I don’t want to just quit. If you surrender  now, you won’t gain any learnings. Ballet can never be rushed.)  

Determined to work on her weaknesses, go through the long training hours, and learn more from her mentors and her peers, Monique makes us all excited about the future. Undoubtedly, her victory in the AGP Manila Regionals is only the beginning.

Monique knows she has to work on her weaknesses and learn more lessons from her mentors to become a better ballerina. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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