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A Prima Ballerina’s Secret to Success

Get to know Lisa MacujaElizalde and how ballet has influenced her life.

Becoming a good ballerina entails a flexible body, a lithe and agile frame, and the passion for ballet. Furthermore, ballet requires strong and healthy bones to withstand the constant jumps, turns and twists that ballet dancers do. Ballet dancers have a greater risk of getting bone fractures as ballet involves a lot of bending and twisting of the body. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, the country’s prima ballerina, is no stranger to bone fractures, having danced ballet for almost her entire life.

Now known as the “Ballerina of the Masses” because of her dedication to bring ballet to the masa, she shares how ballet changed her life and how she maintains strong bones that allow her to continue sharing her craft to the Filipinos.

Her Life and Ballet
She considers her mother as one of her influences in ballet. She was 8 when her mother first brought her to ballet lessons. Her mother was a ballerina herself, which made her want to become one when she was younger. Lisa credits ballet for everything that she has in her life now. “You know you can even say my dancing has brought me my family, my husband, because if I was not prima ballerina I would have never probably met my husband and had my children. My ballet sort of mapped the course of my life,” she shares.

Ballet has taken Lisa all over the globe. She was even invited to dance for the Kirov Ballet Company in Russia, where she worked for 2 years. Because of her success in ballet, she was also able to put up her own ballet company, the renowned Ballet Manila, through which Lisa has been teaching ballet to aspiring ballerinas for 12 years now.

Ballet for the Masses
Lisa’s strong passion for bringing ballet to the masses all started while she was in Russia. “In Russia I was used to dancing to all sorts of audiences in the theater. And that kind of culture made me want to have the same kind of culture here in the Philippines,” she explains.

But how could the masa enjoy ballet? She says, “Mainly it was never turning down an offer to dance whether it was in a town plaza, or on a basketball court or on a TV program.” She also hopes that very soon people would start appreciating ballet for what it really is and not treat it like a beauty contest. “Some people in the audience look at the faces of the dancer’s see if they’re pretty or they look at the faces of the guys and see if they’re handsome,” she says.

As frustrating as it may seem, still Lisa hopes that the state of the arts and culture of the country would improve. “Right now, the arts kasi, like going to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, for example, has been very identified with the elite, the Marcoses, the rich. And people still fear going into a performance,” she says. She hopes that this stigma of ballet even the theater for that matter would change.

Ballet and Bone Health
Strong bones are obviously very important in doing ballet. The impact of the jumps, turns and twists creates an enormous amount of pressure on the bones and muscles, even among those with the healthiest and strongest of bones. Lisa says that even she has had stress fractures in the past. “When you say stress fractures these are tiny, little cracks in the bone because of the constant jumping and pressure. Basically the landing from a jump creates an enormous amount of pressure on the bones and muscles,” she says.

She emphasizes the importance of keeping bones healthy as she shares that a fracture takes six weeks to heal and another three months to regain strength. It is indeed a big setback for ballerinas to get a fracture with that amount of healing time. Fractures are nearly inevitable in ballet. Over time a person’s bones get old and weak, but it seems that for Lisa, her bones are in an eternally strong condition. Thanks to her great regimen and her very healthy lifestyle, her bones are at their prime.

She says that she’s always had a disciplined life. She doesn’t go partying at night and considers ten or eleven o’clock in the evening as late. “I’m not a night person, I’m a morning person. For me 10:00,11:00 p.m is late. I’m normally asleep and in bed by 10,” she shares. Lisa also says that she has never abused her body. She has never smoked, or when she drinks, it’s usually just social drinking. She also tries to eat a healthy and balance diet.

“Most of the time I eat twice day, usually it’s a heavy brunch an then dinner after all the day’s work finished,” she shares. Her dancing is what keeps her trim, although she says that she eats anything and everything she craves, except that she’s not really into sweets. But amazingly with the amount of calories burned while she dances, she gets to keep her twenty three-inch waistline and size 0 frame.

To keep her bones healthy, and to give her energy, she eats a lot of high calcium foods. She eats yogurt and cheese for snacks, and eats rice, noodles and other carbohydrates to give her energy. Together with her balanced diet, she takes natural and organic Vitamin C and B complex vitamins.

Now why does she look like she’s floating every time she performs? And why do the men look like they can carry her effortlessly around the stage? “Normally because of my schedule and my dancing, I fast at least four hours before a performance so that I am nice and light and energized before a performance. Because if I eat, I feel full and sluggish,” she narrates.

Grace Under Pressure
Lisa has always been described as graceful. She executes her moves effortlessly and looks as if she glides on air every time she turns and jumps. It seems as if she’s in top shape all the time, but little do people know that Lisa braves everything, even illnesses, just to please the audience.

She recounts that there were times when she danced with a bum tummy due to dehydration. She was very, very weak, yet she still performed. Sometimes she was jetlagged and her feet were all swollen from the travel that it couldn’t even fit into her point shoes. She has braved dysmenorrhea, a big headache and fever just to perform.

Sometimes the prima ballerina has to rest. And admittedly she says that there were times when she’d say, “Can I not dance today, and i’ll dance tomorrow?” But she says that she’s a lot wiser now. If she feels like she’s taking a lot of risk, health-wise, she just says no.

Lisa Macuja is definitely the greatest Filipina ballerina of our time. When asked how she came to be where she is now, she says, “For me, the best medicine for good dancing is a hundred percent of effort, determination and perseverance. It’s a disciplined life that sometimes involves difficult choices. If you don’t persevere, you will not become a good dancer, you will not be good in anything.”

According to Lisa, it takes six to 10 years of daily training to become a professional dancer. She says she was blessed by getting the best coaches, teachers and training that allowed her to be the best.

Though she may have had the best training, she still says perfection is unachievable in dancing. “Perfection in art is impossible. But you can polish your art to nearly achieve this.”

Her advice to all aspiring ballerinas, is to take care of their body. “Anyone has to take care of their body in order to be able to perform, to give a hundred percent in any performance,” she says.

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