Ballet school teaches character, not just dance | Inquirer News

Ballet school teaches character, not just dance

EFFIE NAÑAS has danced around the world as a ballerina.

Today, as Teacher Effie to many budding dancers, she takes her students to different parts of the globe to showcase their talents.

“Your world-class dancers make your ballet school and our country proud,” a Filipino consul commented after the group had performed during the 111th Philippine Independence Day celebration in New York in 2009.


Nañas, who started ballet lessons in Vietnam at the age of five, believes “travelling is the best teacher” as it broadens one’s horizons.


As a ballerina she has been to every continent except Africa, on scholarship grants and observational studies with major dance companies. As a teacher, she exposes her students to various dance techniques by giving them the opportunity to train and perform abroad.

While in New York, her students took classes at renowned dancing schools: Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center and Valentina Kozlova Dance Company. Nañas herself takes classes abroad to update her dance techniques.

Recently, her students trained at the Beijing Dance Academy, the world’s largest dance institution.

The Effie Nañas Ballet is the only school in the Philippines given the privilege, for the second year, to be invited to the Beijing Dance Academy, according to the school’s founder and director.

Fast learners

An instructor at the dance academy told her the Filipino students did very well in their classes. “My kids learn very fast,” Nañas says.


Nañas, who refers to her students as “my kids,” says it is most fulfilling for her to watch the girls dance onstage, and receive compliments for their performances.

“They’re like my daughters,” she says. Some students have been with her for 10 or more years. Mothers would often tell her that their daughters were “closer to the teacher” than to them.

Students can talk to Nañas whenever they have problems, although the teacher does not allow chitchat during rehearsals.

“When class starts, the studio becomes my world,” says Nañas.

Nañas does not tolerate bad behavior. She is frank with her students. “When they’re wrong, I tell them they’re wrong,” she says. She scolds students when they make the same mistake thrice.

Although she is more lenient with students aged three to five in the pre-ballet class, she does not baby talk or pamper them but treats them like adults.

Except for the first few sessions, parents are not allowed inside the dance studio during classes. Nañas says this helps students learn to be independent.


Punctuality is important to Nañas. When a student is late for class, Nañas calls her attention as soon as she enters the studio and does not accept any excuses.

For her, teaching ballet is not just imparting knowledge but watching students grow as performers and individuals. She does not only teach dancing techniques, she says. “I teach character.”

She admits to being strict. “That’s the only way you can attain excellence,” she says, adding that she is stricter with those who have the potential to become great dancers.

“Dancers are not made,” she says. One with two left feet will never be a ballerina, no matter how good the instructor is. “Dancing is a talent, a gift,” she says.

Having taught dance for more than 40 years now, Nañas has the “eye” to detect raw talent. “But, like a mother, I don’t play favorites,” she says.

She treats students equally because she does not want the better ones to feel superior and the others to feel insecure. She wants her students to respect one another’s abilities.

“You cannot be mediocre,” she tells her students to encourage them to do their best.

She says becoming a ballerina does not happen overnight. It requires continuous training and love for the art. “A ballerina is an artist,” she says.

Her poise, grace and lean figure hint at a glorious past as a ballerina. Nañas was a principal dancer for Ballet Philippines (formerly Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance Company).
She played major roles in classics such as La Bayadere, Les Sylphides, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Nutcracker and Giselle.

Nañas took ballet classes in her late teens while teaching children. She did not find it hard to do both because she enjoyed what she was doing.

Her passion for dancing prompted her to open a school for girls who shared the dream.

Despite her love for ballet, she always tells her students to prioritize academics. “Do your homework first,” she advises.

Not all of her students become ballerinas but those who continued dancing have joined dance companies in Chicago, San Francisco, Mississippi and Australia, among other places.

Nañas says she feels frustrated when a student in her advanced class leaves. But she is always glad when former students excel in their chosen fields.

She recently met a former student who is now a practicing nurse. The student told Nañas that the ballet lessons helped her become more disciplined and determined.

Another student, already a mother, said the ballet lessons made her more confident and poised. Effie Nañas Ballet, which is part of the JNA Dance and Fitness Center at the fourth level of Shangri-La Plaza mall in Mandaluyong City (tel. 6337871), accepts all kinds of students regardless of size, shape and age—from preschoolers to grandmothers.

Although Nañas has devoted her life to ballet and remains single, she has no regrets.

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“Teaching ballet is my joy,” she says. “I’m in the studio everyday. My life is full.”

TAGS: Ballet, character, Dance, Discipline, Excellence, love, passion

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