Missy Elizalde: From dancing to diving


If you meet and hear Missy Elizalde, daughter of Fred and Lisa (nee Macuja, the ballerina), you’d be surprised at the way she speaks — very Tagalog and with no “wurz wurz” accent at all. It would seem that she did not go to the International School of Manila where one would assume the rich kids sound very English, and I mean that kind of English that one does not learn from a crash course to be able to carry a conversation with Americans so you could assist them in their needs or sell to them. Nothing wrong with that, of course. We should be proud that we could communicate with anyone in the world because we are proficient in the language and almost sound like we took lessons from Professor Higgins.

It’s just that when I recently visited Missy in their family’s ancestral house — originally owned by the Cadwalladers, the family that Don Manolo Elizalde married into — I was shocked to hear she sounded exactly like the girl on the street that I was just talking with. But the similarity ends there.

Missy is totally unassuming and relaxed, while the one I had just talked with seemed agitated and burdened by life’s worries and challenges and, as a defense mechanism, was putting on airs about certain inconsequential things. But the girl does serve my purpose now, as I try to gauge the level of Missy’s Tagalog, and well, indeed, Missy will not get lost in the wonderland that is Manila, and would even stand out because of her charm and beauty. And yes, just to stress, she could debate with that girl on the street if she had to at all, and tangle with her word for word, verb for verb, adjective for adjective, in our national language, Filipino.

Missy was on her Christmas break and was leaving in a few days to resume classes at Emerson College in downtown Boston when she found the time to receive me.

She said, in response to my expression of awe about the way she spoke, “Natutunan kong mag-Tagalog bata pa ako. Lalo pa nang mag-umpisa akong magtrabaho sa Ballet Manila. Eleven years old lang ako nuon (I learned how to speak Tagalog from a young age. Especially when I started working for Ballet Manila. I was only 11 years old then).”

Missy describes herself a “conservationist.”

Reluctant ballerina

Missy, who attended summer ballet lessons starting at age six, initially “dropped out,” but Lisa let her be.

“I didn’t want to dance because everybody was kind of making me do it ever since I was very young,” she explained. “I told my mom that I didn’t want to do it and she was heartbroken. But I started again when I was 11. After that, it was dere-derecho na (all the way already) and I stopped when I was senior in high school.”

She was with Ballet Manila for six years. She danced various roles like Masha in the Nutcracker, Cupid in Don Quixote, and Ate Missy in the Lola Basyang series. Some of her roles even had speaking parts. By the time she was 15, she had become a member of the company where she stayed on until she left for studies abroad at age 17.

I asked her if she took to ballet like ducks do to water, and she said, “Just a little bit because I was flexible. And I have good feet but my body got injured in the first couple of years. I got tendonitis, I fractured my ankle and I had surgery when I was 16. I tore a muscle in one foot. So I had lots of injuries.”

What she lacked in height, she made up for “in my artistry, my jumping and a lot other things. So I grew into my own kind of dancer. But I stopped and it’s been a long time ago.”

At the International School, though, she did contemporary dance and even performed for the school in Southeast Asian interscholastic dance competitions, which brought the ISM dancers to Jakarta, Taipei and Singapore. Two of these dance showcases were “En Route” and “Obra Maestra” choreographed by Yek Borlongay, who manages the dance company at the International School of Manila. In her senior year, Missy was in the play, Internecine War in the Kingdom of Ra.

Missy had two favorite subjects — Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, and Business Management, the latter because “I’ve been a little bit hardwired to it as the family was engaged in businesses and so it was the environment I grew up in. Since I had an inclination towards it, I think I kinda went to it.”

Aside from being on the honors list, Missy was active as secretary of her school’s Philippine Cultural Club, which was intended for the Filipino students to know more about their country. The group put up an annual Barrio Fiesta.

While allowed enough independence growing up, she also had “to tell my parents what I was gonna do before I did it. That was their number one rule.” ROMAN PROSPERO

Good work ethic

Now that she’s abroad, she’s grateful her mother, Lisa, raised her well. “She instilled in me the value of hard work. The message was you have to earn what you get, you can’t just be given certain things.”

In high school, she was on allowance, at P500 or P1,000 pesos just so she could buy food “because sometimes I missed breakfast while working or doing an assignment,” she said.

It would not surprise anyone who saw her grow that in college, she took a few jobs. “I have a good work ethic,” said Missy. “When I left, I didn’t rely too much on my parents.  I was earning my own money in the States so I could buy my food and pay my rent. I worked in the office of International Students Affairs. I worked as a stage door manager.”

While allowed enough independence growing up, she also had “to tell my parents what I was gonna do, before I did it. That was their number one rule.” She was initially given a curfew but as she learned to be responsible, she came home on time without necessarily having to beat the clock.

Outside of her school work, she managed to join a musical produced by the 9 Works Theatrical where she acted with professional actors Steven Silva, Michael de Mesa and Audie Gemora. “Gusto mong mag-showbiz (Would you like to join showbiz)?” her co-actors were asking her, but it was a no from her because, “I would rather dive.”

she intends to come home and do her part for the family businesses. ROMAN PROSPERO


Missy describes herself a “conservationist.” Although she had not taken any credit for science, she was recently “on a boat in Indonesia for a couple of weeks. It was an expedition and it was called the Komodo Expedition. We went to the Komodo national park which is a sanctuary.  We surveyed the fish population and surveyed mantas, turtles and rays. We did like 30 dives in two weeks. It was part of the Indo Ocean Project.”

A professor who does a lot of humanitarian work led her to a website that in turn led her to the Indo Ocean Project. She applied and was asked to fill out a questionnaire and submit certificates, including her license with the PADI as an open water diver, and in a few weeks, she found out she was in.

Of course, that worried her parents not knowing a thing about the organization that was spearheading the dive, but Missy explained it was truly a legit one, so not to worry.
Actually, when Missy is home, she goes diving when the family travels to various parts of the Philippines. She had just been to Cebu diving when we were talking, and was getting ready to leave for Anilao before she finally flies back to Boston. Boracay is a favorite jaunt destination of the Elizaldes where they maintain a beautiful home.

‘Afritada’ and ‘Adobo’

In Boston, she lives in Beacon Hill not because it is where the likes of her lives (read: upper strata), but “because it is convenient.” She whips up Filipino dishes such as afritada and adobo, having learned the recipes from her Susan Macuja. “However, I have to make do with a lot of substitutes because there’s no Filipino store that I know of, so I go instead to the nearby Chinese store.”

Sometime before she came home for the Christmas break, she cooked her version of sisig using pork belly and it was a big hit among her friends. In Boston her barkada (gangmates) include compatriots Bianca Nicdao, Loren Granada and Ranton Andaya.

It is indeed refreshing to know that scions of good families today are of a different mold.
Second, third and fourth generation children of well-to-do families, like that of Fred and Lisa Elizalde, are actively into causes that seek to make this world a better place to live in, even if they too are enjoying their youth.

Missy, once she graduates, will probably work for a few years abroad, just so she would know how to work outside of the family, but she intends to come home and do her part for the family businesses, especially because she is specializing in creative industry management, which would make her very useful in Ballet Manila, DZRH, Aliw Theater and, of course, Star City.

She’s lucky to have parents like Fred and Lisa, but I would say too that parents would be lucky to have for a daughter someone like Missy, who’s responsible, brilliant and well-mannered.

In the coming weeks, I will share with you stories about scions who are doing their forebears proud and giving us, Filipinos, hope for a better future.

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