31 Mar Three POINTES to Macuja’s Speech and her 8-counts to Dance Your Way to Life



JUAN SAYS: Among the graduation speeches that went viral over the graduation season, Liza Macuja-Elizalde’s may be the most “true to life.” She did away with the usual “congratulations to a job well done” kind of bullshit, but stayed true to what graduates must expect in the next chapter of their lives.
Her speech comes at a most welcoming time and we are hoping that the graduating class of 2015 of the Ateneo de Manila University took note of what she had to say during their commencement exercises. We are even hoping that they had a pen and paper on hand to jot down her key points. Trust us, you’d need to remind yourself of what she said as you go on with your lives and pursue your chosen career paths in the future. Stepping into the “real world” is no joke. If at all, it is the most heartbreaking and complex episode of your lives. You’d wish you were back in school asking your parents for “baon” and not thinking about the decisions you are about to make which may break you or your career. We know ‘coz we’ve been there, and it would have been a lot helpful if we mustered the strength to stay awake during our respective graduation rites and listened to the speaker.
For those who slept (like us) during their own graduation ceremonies, we took the liberty of writing notes from Liza Macuja-Elizalde’s speech to serve as a daily reminder why we are where we are, and why we wanted to be what we want to be in the first place. Oh did we forget to mention? She didn’t say anything about earning big bucks big time. ‘Coz really, that is just a flat out lie, a lie that you can tell yourself repeatedly, but would never bring you satisfaction in the things that you are about to do.
As the song goes: “take your passion, and make it happen.” That’s how you roll!
POINT #1: “When I told my parents I wanted to study ballet in Russia instead of enrolling in college like everyone else, my father’s reaction was: “What? So you will become a dancer and just learn to count to eight for the rest of your life?”



JUAN SAYS: We all know how parents are, and we all know how controlling they can become. Our parents (and some us, as parents) only have good intentions for us. Sometimes in their surprise they utter words that could hurt us or make us feel that our dreams are belittled because they are such small dreams compared to the ones that they have envisioned for us. HOWEVER, kinontra ka man or kinunsinte, we have to be grateful to our parents. Remember, they were the first ones who listened to our “sales pitches” and actually bought it. That was your first sale, and the contract cost is more than Php1 Million. And you should know that in the real world, your sales skills is 50% of your success.


Point #2: “Beginnings are difficult. But I stayed. Sometimes being stubborn has its rewards.”
JUAN SAYS: In many ways, being stubborn has its rewards. There will be days when the adversities in life may threaten to get the better of us. Just when you are about to throw the towel in, you begin to see a bleak light – that so-called light at the end of the tunnel and you press on, with sheer guts and pure stubbornness, you press on. In the real world, you will need stubbornness to drown the voices of people telling you otherwise, to erase the image of failure in your head, and your stubbornness is your greatest artillery to you your biggest enemy – self-doubt. As we have always believed: “when in doubt, go all out.” Never forget that.
Point #3: “The journey was challenging but it was well worth it because I pursued a path that brought me closer to my heart’s calling. And when your heart speaks to you, you can never go wrong because it never lies. And it will push you to go forward and excel because at a certain point, your dream becomes like oxygen. You need it to breathe. You need it to grow. You need it to live.”
JUAN SAYS: Due to pressing concerns about earning a lot – to pay the bills, to buy the things that would impress other people that really don’t care about us, and just to satisfy our own egos that we are earning THIS MUCH – many of us have forgotten the essence of why we are alive in the first place. We are NOT born to be ATM machines, just to cough up cash just because we can. We were born for a reason, and many times this reason gets drowned by the need to earn. So we take this as a reminder that we have chosen this path for a reason – because our hearts once told us so. That quote from the Little Prince rung in our ears: “it is only with the heart where one can see clearly…” Move towards where your heart is directing you to do, nothing beats the satisfaction of realizing that you and your dreams are becoming one. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing your significance in this crazy world.

LISA’S 8-counts to Dance Your Way to Life

Decide and commit to something that you are passionate about. The earlier you do this, the better. Make a decision not just on what you want to do and what you want to achieve in the next few years, but try to picture where you want to be 20 years from now. This was something my father taught me. He was a very wise and logical man. After all, he was an Atenean right? When I was 15, he made me write a list of what I wanted to be and should have done by the age of 35. I came up with the following: to get a degree from the Ateneo and become a teacher; to dance all the classical ballerina roles at least once in my career; to own and operate my own ballet school; to have my own family and be a mom. I committed myself to these long-term goals alongside my short term ones and looking back, I seem to have done everything before I reached 35 – except for the first one. But wait, since I am a ballet teacher, I guess it’s just a matter of getting a diploma then. Hmmm…
No pain, no gain. I cannot overemphasize this point. Nothing can take the place of hard work – not even talent. As they say, hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard. When my own daughter told me she wanted to become a ballerina, a part of me was excited for her and pleased that I could help her to achieve her dream. But part of me was also screaming NOOOOO because I wanted to protect her from all the blood, sweat, and tears that she would have to go through in order to achieve her dreams. In the end, she pursued her intention and now I know how my parents felt back then—extremely proud!
Whatever your goal, get good at it! Whatever it is you are passionate about, you need to keep at it and practice. Repeat. Practice. Repeat. While you are practicing and repeating, don’t forget the “and” count — the “one-and-a-two-and-a-three” connecting counts that link together connecting steps in ballet. Bear in mind that there are also connecting points in life that are just as important as its highs and lows. These are the periods of rest, recreation, and stillness. These in-between moments are just as important because they give you a chance to breathe, to balance and to center. So keep on practicing – but take vacations too. Keep your focus… but remember it’s the linking “ands” that keep you connected.
Honor your emotions and acknowledge your fears. It’s okay to be nervous, to feel anxious or to have stage fright. That means you care and that you want to excel. After three decades of dancing, I still gag before going onstage! That’s why I make sure to fast before every performance. Seriously, it’s when you stop feeling nervous that you should start to worry because that means you are becoming apathetic towards what you are doing. And that’s a scary place to be in. Your emotions are a part of who you are. Being emotional doesn’t mean you’re weak. Whether you need to deal with pressure, loss, failure, hurt or rejection, our emotions are not a baggage. Instead, they make us human. They make us whole. So cry, laugh, smile, scream… it’s okay!
For a performing artist, the performance is the product and thus, the most important part of your work. All the classes, rehearsals, warm-ups and preparation culminate into that one performance. That is what the audience sees and that is what they will take away with them. Treat every time you get to practice your profession as a performance. Don’t save your best effort for another day. Always give 100% so you never have to regret anything. But BE PREPARED. You know in jumping, the deeper you do this step called a “plié” which means to bend (in this case your knees) the higher you are able to propel yourself into the air. The plié is your preparation. The soaring into the air is the goal. The more prepared you are, whether for a presentation, a task or a performance, usually, the outcome is also better. Take this moment now to thank your parents, teachers, mentors, administrators, family, colleagues, your Manongs and Manangs and your friends. For they all helped out to prepare you well. And they will continue to support you in the years to come. Believe me, you will need their support.
Do something crazy. Do something that defies all logic at least once in your life. You never know what could happen from there. I once found myself in Cuba and was asked to dance the full-length Swan Lake. Now you have to know something about Swan Lake—it has the most difficult ballerina role ever. In fact, in Russia, I was warned by my own teacher—who I loved and respected and trusted—that I should never do the roles of Odette/Odile. It’s true. She told me when I graduated that I was already equipped to dance any role out there—except Odette/Odile. “Because Lisa, you will never be a Swan Queen,” she said frankly but with every good intention. Well, my “something crazy” happened twice in my life. First, I accepted the challenge of performing Swan Lake in Cuba with only FOUR DAYS to learn and rehearse it. And I performed what was for me the WORST Swan Lake I have ever done in my career! Honestly, I still cringe when I watch the video. But I did it. No regrets. My second crazy moment was when I resigned from my former company, where I was principal dancer, and formed Ballet Manila in 1995 with 11 other young dancers. No money, no connections, just a lot of drive and dreams to begin with. Well, the company just celebrated its 20th anniversary last month with five times the number of dancers, plus a school and a scholarship foundation that promises a steady supply of well-trained ballet dancers to continue our mission of bringing ballet to the people and people to the ballet in the many years to come! Sometimes closing your eyes and taking that leap of faith will get you there—even if it makes you pass through a lot of heartaches and failure along the way.
This one is a quote I saw on social media but which I felt was truly valid and real: “One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.” This is where setting a deadline for yourself is most important. I gave myself two years to become a ballerina, although honestly I do not know what I would have done if it didn’t work out. (You see I hate accounting. Working with numbers was never my forte—unless of course it involves counting to 8).
So push yourself through self-doubts, for they will certainly come. Push yourself through rejection. But also know when it’s time to re-direct. Re-boot. And then decide and commit all over again.
Serve. Offer yourself to a cause bigger than your own needs or ambition. Find ways to make your dreams meaningful to others as well. One thing that I’ve learned from my family of Blue Eagles is that an Atenean means being a “man or woman for others.” You need to serve. Serve your whole life. Serve yourself sometimes. But serve others more often.
I met many of you during two separate visits to the Ateneo that have prepared me for today’s commencement speech. With today’s visit, I must say I haven’t been this often to Ateneo since I was in high school coming to watch Dulaang Sibol.
So what are my eight counts again?
Decide and commit
Work hard
Focus and get good
Honor your emotions
Prepare well
Take the leap
Set deadlines
and Serve.

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