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How ballet legends Maniya Barredo, Alice Reyes, and Myra Beltran inspired and launched the careers of countless Filipinos

Are you a natural at drawing, cooking, singing, playing sports? Then that is your talent. Though others discover theirs earlier than the rest, talent manifests in time for you to cultivate and use to enhance the lives of others. For what point is a God-given gift if not to be shared with the world?

“A Christian who withdraws into himself, hiding all that the Lord has given him, is not a Christian!” exclaimed Pope Francis. “Jesus doesn’t ask us to keep His Grace in a safety box. He wants us to use it to help others!”

This Throwback Thursday, My Pope celebrates the lives and careers of three renowned Filipina ballerinas—and how they used their talents to inspire and empower other local artists.

Want to become a ballerina? This E-learning course will help you learn ballet anytime, anywhere!

Maniya Barredo (Prima Ballerina of the Philippines)

“Be original and believe in the power of your dream.” – Maniya Barredo

The ninth of 15 children, Maniya was a young girl when she took dance lessons under her aunt, respected ballet dancer Julie Borromeo. She also had her own TV show, which provided her family with the resources to send her brothers and sisters to school.

At New York’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet, the scholar Maniya caught the attention of school director Robert Joffrey, though not for the right reasons. Noticing her weight gain, he suggested she be a nurse or secretary “like most Filipino women were.” This pushed Maniya to work doubly hard, and her efforts won her a contract with another ballet company.

In 1978, Maniya earned the rare title of Prima Ballerina from no less than Dame Margot Fonteyn herself. Now retired, the founder and director of the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre has performed with the world’s best ballet dancers and on stages around the globe. “Be original and believe in the power of your dream,” she told Inquirer.net. “Do what your heart, body, mind, and soul say you should do. Never sell out no matter how hard the experience you may have to go through in life.”

Also Read: This 12-year-old Filipina ballerina is dancing her way to the world stage

Alice Reyes (National Artist for Dance)

“The best revenge is a good performance.” – Alice Reyes

The daughter of Ricardo “Mr. Philippine Folk Dance” Reyes and one of three ballerinas in the family (sisters Edna Vida and Denisa Reyes are also accomplished dancers), Alice learned dance from Rosalia Merino, Leonor Obusan, and the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company before being mentored by iconic modern American dancers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.

The founder of Ballet Philippines (BP) in 1969, she introduced audiences to contemporary Filipino dance, combining elements of indigenous dance, modern dance, and classical ballet to produce a style that is uniquely our own. She also developed programs to hone the talents of local dancers and choreographers, and bring dance to the masses.

Returning as artistic director of BP, the National Artist for Dance (2014) has come a long way from performing her modern dance concerts before empty seats. “Although we got negative reviews, there was an intelligent audience who propped us up,” said her sister Edna to Inqurier.net. “Alice could feel our morale. She told us not to fight back or get defensive. The best revenge is a good performance.”  

Also Read: Two Become One: The Love Story of Edna Vida and Nonoy Froilan

Myra Beltran (Pioneer of Philippine Contemporary Dance)

“Dance has taught me how to live.” – Myra Beltran

Though there were no dancers in her family, Myra discovered her passion for dance early when she learned ballet under Vella Damian. “I just knew I wanted to dance every day, there was no other way to live,” said Myra.

After dancing for professional companies in the Philippines, Germany, and Yugoslavia, Myra became an independent choreographer in 1994 under her group, Dance Forum. Despite the criticism she received for going solo, she persisted, and in the process helped launch the careers of upcoming choreographers and expose Philippine dance to the world through her initiatives, Contemporary Dance Map and Wifi Body Festival.   

Described by dance historian and critic Basilio Villaruz as “most courageous as a solo artist, unafraid to speak from the convictions of her heart,” Myra is grateful for the gift of dance. “I sincerely think…that dance has taught me how to live,” she told Philippine dance magazine runthru.


Text by Joy Rojas.

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