‘Balikbayan’ ballet mom brings expertise home | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Grethel Raypon coaches Francesca. —contributed photos
Grethel Raypon coaches Francesca. —contributed photos
Grethel Raypon coaches Francesca. —contributed photos

Grethel Domingo Raypon, a former principal dancer with Ballet Philippines and companies in the United States, has returned to the Philippines after three decades abroad. The balikbayan, 52, recently opened the Northeast Ballet Academy in Quezon City, sharing her extensive dance experience.

Raypon, along with her Filipino American husband Russell and their children Francesca and Matteo, adjusted to the cultural shift upon their return. While she and Russell, a basketball coach, grappled with Manila’s anarchy, their US-born children embraced the acclimatization to their Filipino heritage.

Raypon’s impressive career includes stints with Cleveland Ballet, Ballet San Jose and Diablo Ballet. After marrying Russell, they settled in Fresno, California, where she transformed the ballet program at Dance Studio Fresno from a recreational activity to a professional training ground. Under her tutelage for 18 years, the program flourished, becoming the studio’s most popular and well-enrolled discipline.

Despite her own success, Raypon initially hesitated when her daughter Francesca, who displayed natural talent, expressed interest in learning ballet at the age of 3.

Mom and daughter dynamics“Dance requires passion,” Raypon explains, adding that the profession is extremely demanding and competitive. “Without it, you would be miserable. I wanted Francesca to discover her own spark, not follow in my footsteps. I didn’t want her to join a ballet company just because I did.”

Francesca’s unwavering determination eventually won over her mother’s initial resistance. She began ballet lessons at 5 years old. As Francesca matured, Raypon established clear boundaries. Aware of their familial bond, she was stricter with her daughter than with other students.

Francesca’s long limbs, arched feet, strength and exceptional flexibility made her stand out in class. However, the child initially struggled to separate her mother’s roles as teacher and parent. Raypon set higher expectations for her daughter and avoided public praise to prevent accusations of nepotism. To offer subtle encouragement, she devised a secret language—a gentle tug of the ear acknowledged a well-executed movement.Raypon maintained a firm but fair approach in her classroom. When students displayed laziness or inattentiveness, she issued three warnings. After the third instance, they were asked to leave the studio and wait outside.

“Francesca received no such leniency,” Raypon remembers. “I sent her out of the class when she messed up.”

Determined to prove herself, a tearful Francesca, then 7 years old, diligently repeated the exercises outside the studio, mirroring the class within. This staunch discipline became an example for her classmates who faced similar consequences.Private lessons proved challenging, as their strong personalities collided. Raypon’s uncompromising standards met Francesca’s assertive nature. Eventually, Francesca recognized her mother’s dedication and accepted her own shortcomings.

“Filipino parents prioritize discipline,” Raypon explains. “It’s different from the leniency I often witnessed in America.”

Like mother, like daughter (Grethel, top, and Francesca, below)
Like mother, like daughter (Grethel, top, and Francesca, below)


At the age of 9, Francesca joined the Youth America Grand Prix (YGAP), the largest student ballet scholarship competition. “We had to strap her glasses when she went onstage,” Raypon recalls. Francesca showcased her versatility, performing a classical solo, “Bluebird,” alongside a self-choreographed contemporary piece.

Through consistent participation in YGAP, Francesca secured scholarships at prestigious ballet schools. From the age of 14, she embarked on independence, fueled by scholarships that took her to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York, the International Ballet Academy in North Carolina, the Royal Ballet School summer intensive in London, and a two-year stint with the National Ballet of Canada, where she also completed her high school education. Most recently, Francesca concluded her season with Orlando Ballet 2, a junior company in Florida, and will spend a year in the Philippines.

Raypon beams with pride as she reflects on her daughter’s newfound independence. Francesca has mastered time management, budgeting, laundry, and navigating the city.

“She’s confident in herself,” the mom says. “Francesca understands she can’t control others’ opinions, and that’s empowering.”

Living with diverse classmates also broadened Francesca’s culinary horizons. “We used to have a ‘white food’ phase—pasta with butter, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese,” Raypon admits. “Now, she’s adventurous! In Toronto, she knew exactly where to find ramen.”

While they were in the US, Filipino traditions were kept alive through Raypon’s in-laws’ cooking and stories, and Raypon’s lessons in respectful language (po and opo) and how to eat with a spoon and fork. Now, they can experience it firsthand.

Being fully present

Last year, the Raypons made a significant decision. Russell, leveraging his basketball coaching background, transitioned to a sports color commentator role for the Pinoy Liga Cup. This shift allowed Raypon to focus on Matteo, driving him to school and basketball practice.

“These last two years of high school are crucial,” she explains. “I wanted to be fully present for Matteo, especially since he plans to attend college here.”

During the Christmas break, Francesca took classes at Ballet Manila. This marked her first experience dancing with an all-Filipino company. The warmth of her heritage resonated deeply.

“Abroad, she’s surrounded by international students, often the sole Filipina,” Raypon explains. “At Ballet Manila, her eyes sparkled—everyone looked like her, and the camaraderie was beautiful. She said her heart felt full.”

Raypon, meanwhile, is navigating the challenges of running a dance school in the Philippines. Bureaucracy and a lackadaisical business pace require adaptation, but her optimism remains undimmed. She sees dance not just as a path to artistic excellence, but as a mirror reflecting values—a celebration of community, discipline, and self-expression.

Research affirms these values, highlighting the positive impact of dance on a child’s development—fostering motor skills, social connections, teamwork, respect, and valuable life lessons. Raypon is eager to instill these principles in her students, just as she did with her own daughter.

Her former students have gone on to successful careers, joining dance companies or enrolling in prestigious institutions such as Juilliard, the University of San Carlos, and University of California Los Angeles. They all express deep gratitude for the discipline obtained from her training.

Raypon herself emphasizes the importance of personal satisfaction over external validation: “No matter what field you choose, aim for pride in your work. You can win a competition without giving your best, and you can lose without placing, but giving your all is always winning. Do your best and strive to be a good person.”

Northeast Ballet Academy: 47 P. Tuazon corner C. Benitez Streets, Quezon City; tel +63 962 595 6311; email [email protected]; Instagram @northeastballetph

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