Passions and Obsessions

We dance to feel Christmas

Banking, baking, not even this pandemic,
could keep one away from a true passion

Marilinda Claravall with some of British School Manila students in file photo

Marilinda Claravall presents some of her ballet students from The British School of Manila in a December 20 virtual show, ‘Hope & Joy in My Sacred Space.’

Marilinda Claravall mounts 'Hope and Joy in My Sacred Space' for Christmas.

Marilinda Claravall mounts ‘Hope and Joy in My Sacred Space’ for Christmas season.

INTRODUCTION. The author’s professional affiliations would make anyone curious because they are not only varied, but also disparate: Philippine Institute of Certified Accountants, National Funeral Directors’ Association, Personnel Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theatre, Inc., Royal Academy of Dance London. Through the decades she has straddled the unrelated industries of banking, funeral industry—as senior vice president and chief operating officer of Loyola Memorial Chapels/Loyola Crematory Services (1994-2001)— and ballet, as founder/choreographer/coach of her own school, the Claravall School of Dance, as artistic council vice-chairman of Philippine Ballet Theatre, and as tutor/registered teacher of Royal Academy of Dance London, and the British School of Manila.

A Certified Public Accountant who graduated with Bachelor of Science in Accounting from St. Theresa’s College, she first went into banking, even as she was deep into ballet. After a successful banking career, she was tapped to turn around the business of the Loyola Memorial Chapels, a challenge she took on because it came at a most opportune moment—she had just lost her husband and couldn’t bear the grief of losing a loved one. As a young widow with children to raise, she believed that helping people come to terms with the tragic loss of a loved one could help her overcome hers.

Through these successful careers, however, she continued to indulge her passion for ballet. Turned out, not even the pandemic could dampen that passion. On Sunday, December 20, 3 p.m. she is presenting her students and former classmates in a virtual dance show, “Hope and Joy in My Sacred Space.” These are the students she continues to tutor virtually even in the lockdown.—Editor

I just knew that I had to do something. The lockdown, I realized, was something we would have to live with, even at varying levels. My students and colleagues were getting impatient and bored at home; even I was. Our dance was interrupted by this pandemic—quite literally.

To continue our sessions, I had to embrace, not only use, technology. I had to learn how to Zoom, and how to use it to coach my students. I had to work with a videographer and video editor. I didn’t stop with my students. I realized that my former classmates at St. Theresa’s also wanted to do something while at lockdown. At their prodding, we started our weekly ballet exercises for adults, also in Zoom.

Through the weeks, the students joined our virtual sessions. These culminate on December 20, Sunday, in a dance show titled Hope and Joy in My Sacred Space—dance that leaps over this pandemic onto the digital platform.

It proves that anything can be done provided one is open to learning and adjustment. More important, even in this pandemic, we can express the joy of Christmas and the faith in our hearts through our passion, which is dance.

I realized this means a lot to the students, these children.

I have been holding ballet classes at the British School of Manila since 2002. It will be my 20th year on January 14, 2021, an auspicious date because that was when my dad went home to God.

The class is called After School Activity Ballet at British School. It seemed everything fell into place in 2002. A British School parent came to my studio here in Paranaque,  after checking out two other ballet schools. She decided to enroll her daughter.  After two lessons, she gave me the calling card of the Head of School then, Helen Kinsey Wightmann.  I did give her a call after two months; that was December. Right after that first meeting, she asked me to teach in January, on the first day of school. After the announcement, we got 10 enrollees, which then rose to an average of 80.

It wasn’t easy to prove your skills and expertise through the years. There would be those who would try to put you down.  But the results spoke for themselves—British School students did well in the Royal Academy of Dance London exams,  did shows at the  Cultural Center of the Philippines.

I was the only Filipino who ran an After School Activity,  the rest were foreigners. I felt glad that all the Filipino employees, from assistants to gardeners, became my friends and they were proud of me. It was also heartwarming that the British School built  two studios, the last of which was state of the art.

“I have always been impressed with the Royal Academy of Dance qualifications these children have achieved mainly at merit or distinction,” wrote Simon Mann, former Head of School, in his Message at the performance of Beauty or the Beast and Other Dances in 2019. Martin Van Der Linde is the current Head of School.

The author (left) and Tita Radaic in Christmas 2011.

The author (left) and Tita Radaic in Christmas 2011.

BAPTISM OF FIRE

I know only too well how it feels to be a student—the sense of fulfillment, the disappointment or frustration, even a sense of failure.

Dad put up a dance studio in our old house because four of us were studying ballet.  When I was only 12,  Dad “advertised” in our street that we were giving free ballet lessons. I was tasked to teach. Sure enough there were kids who came in, about five or six a week. Even my two younger sisters, who were nine and 10 years my junior, joined.  It was my baptism of fire. I also did the music, playing all the pieces, while Dad tape-recorded these songs. At that time there was no music that you could purchase or download.

When I was 14, in second year high school, the country’s foremost ballerina and teacher Tita Radaic took me as her assistant in her  St. Theresa’s College studio.  I had students older than I and, did I get negative reactions from them. But they had no choice.  Tita was watching them and  me, how I  taught. I was too young to teach,  but Tita must have good faith in me because she insisted I continue teaching. I stopped teaching only in college; Accounting was a difficult hurdle at STC.

In those early years, Dad already called ours the Classical Ballet Studio, with signage to boot and official receipts.  He started charging lessons after three months.  I gave all the money collected to my parents.

The Claravall School of Dance started in 1985. So if you count the years I have been teaching ballet—it’s been over 40 years: in my own studio, at St. Scholastica’s College (I broke the barrier because I was the only Theresian in a long line of  Scholasticans), then at Woodrose.

Finally, I took the RAD exams,  then joined Dance Theatre Philippines for three years. It was getting difficult to be a dancer and go home, work on accounting and management problems. I had to wait long hours to rehearse my parts, then spend sleepless nights on accounting. Dad put  a stop to that. He said I could go back to dancing after I get my CPA.  I did —with Philippine Ballet Theatre, where I am now the vice chair of the Artistic Council and corporate secretary of the Board of Trustees.

It capped, would you believe, a banking career. I was with Manila Bank from 1973 to 1985, rose from the ranks as audit clerk and before the bank closed I was the internal auditor for non-bank financial intermediaries.

The work as senior vice president and chief operating officer at Loyola Memorial Chapels and Crematory Services from 1994 to 2001 helped me emotionally after the death of my husband. I shared my life story with our clientele and it helped them.

I also decided to teach all levels of Accounting at Thames International Business School for two years.  I enjoyed being with teenagers to learn about their life stories.

So you see, through the decades, I’ve taken so many detours from dance—but I always come home to this true passion. The pandemic has even led me to dabble in baking ensaymada and bread. Yet, not even baking in this pandemic could keep me distracted from ballet for long. Certainly not this Christmas.

 

About author

Articles

She is a ballerina turned CPA who became one of the country’s foremost ballet teachers, a tutor of the Royal Academy of Dance London.
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