Ballet ‘appropriate for the Filipino’s physique and innate talent’–how Shirley Halili-Cruz made it possible
Teachers at Halili-Cruz School of Ballet (HCSB) tell the story of how people are surprised to discover that the 30-year-old institution’s building in Quezon City houses “a real school.”
“Ay, school pala siya,” HCSB associate artistic director Anna Kathrina Halili-Cruz Bueno quotes adults who come to inquire about ballet lessons, oftentimes for their young daughters. (The school also accepts male students.)
Ballet school is similar to academic training, stressed Bueno, daughter of HCSB founder and artistic director Shirley Halili-Cruz.
Like the education department’s basic education program, the Halili-Cruz ballet curriculum also has 12 levels from beginner to advanced that the founder herself formulated.
Toddlers between 3 and 4 years old are ushered into the Tiny Tots program; those aged 5 and 6, to Baby Ballet; those between 7 and 11, to Pre-Ballet, Bueno said.
If the students are dedicated enough, they will endure the rigorous 12-level training of Classical Ballet and eventually compete in international festivals, as Halili-Cruz wards do every year.
Halili-Cruz established the school in 1985, but the story began much earlier, when, as an 8-year-old, she earned a full scholarship in Classical Ballet and Modern Jazz.
When she was 15, the young Shirley’s teacher Bonnie Weinstein Clalagopi went back to the United States and assigned the protégé to handle the ballet, Polynesian and jazz classes at Siena College, Colegio de Sta. Catalina and Angelicum School.
Halili-Cruz balanced ballet and a business administration course, eventually graduating summa cum laude with majors in accounting, management and marketing while dancing as a soloist of the Dance Concert Company under the directorship of choreographer Eric V. Cruz.
Halili-Cruz later flew to New York, where she took professional dancing courses at New York Academy and Conservatory of Music and Dance, American Ballet Center, Neubert Ballet Institute and New York Academy of Ballet School of Excellence.
The exposure to different ballet syllabi made Halili-Cruz design her unique curriculum “appropriate for the Filipino’s physique and innate talent,” hence the 12-level Classical Ballet Syllabus now taught in the campus along Quezon Avenue and its satellite schools in seven schools all over Metro Manila and Alabang Country Club.
Family into the arts
Bueno said her grandfather, the late construction tycoon Felipe “F.F.” Cruz Sr., belonged to a family that supports and is involved in the arts (grandmother Angelita Cruz and aunt Josie Cruz Natori are both concert pianists) and allowed daughter-in-law Halili-Cruz to occupy the original building along Quezon Avenue that had its own huge ballet studio. (Halili-Cruz is married to the contractor’s son Eric Almeda Cruz.)
Bueno recalled that, in 1992, a fire that broke out in a nearby auto showroom engulfed the HCSB building along with an adjacent warehouse, where bolts of fabric to be used in Natori’s clothing line were stored.
All ballet classes were temporarily transferred to HCSB’s satellite school in Poveda College.
The HCSB building’s reconstruction was completed two years later. The present campus has five ballet studios with a total land area of 600 square meters for students of various dance genres.
Bueno said HCSB remains the biggest ballet school in the country, with an annual average of 1,000 students. It holds three recitals a year, and students compete regularly in festivals in Asia, Europe and the United States.
While Bueno and other associate directors are at the helm of HCSB, Halili-Cruz remains active in the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) where she was reelected recently as chair of its national committee on dance and as vice chair of its subcommission on the arts.
Bueno announced that HCSB’s new component, the Halili-Cruz Conservatory, offers summer workshops in jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical and contemporary dance that began March 28 and will run until May 20. UK- and Russia-based teachers have been invited to train students, and a recital will take place on May 27. (The Conservatory follows the Europe-based United Dance Organization hip-hop syllabus.)
Bueno notes that while the summer workshop is proof that the school recognizes and advocates other forms of dance, ballet remains its strongest point.
“All our ballet teachers are our own graduates. They are all full-time teachers,” she said.
Like sports, ballet develops discipline and stamina among dancers. But there is also grace, artistry and bonding.
But what Bueno and the teachers really want parents to understand is that ballet school is not a summer hobby, but a vocation for those who are truly dedicated to dance.
“There are parents who bring their children every summer, and wonder why the child is always put in a beginner’s class. We examine the child’s skill level, apart from the age, and put her in a class appropriate for her skill. Just as a child who attends ballet class once a week has a different skill level from another who attends three times a week,” she explained.
Call 3724607 or 09199970970 for Halili-Cruz Conservatory workshops on jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical and contemporary dance.
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