When my granddaughter Sophie started taking ballet lessons at Academy One Music & Ballet Center, I told her that one of her teachers was a schoolmate of mine. It fascinated her no end that a teacher of hers went to the same school as I. It fascinated me no end that I actually have a friend, from high school, who became a teacher! (I mean, we were so mean to our teachers back then!)
But become a teacher Cherish Garcia did.
Cherish fell in love with ballet when she was seven years old. Her mom signed her up for classes and she just lost it! “I read up on all the famous ballerinas and became obsessed.
Something about ballet and moving just felt right. In my head, I was this exceptional, amazing dancer who would be a ballerina,” she said.
“The wiser, older me realizes now that I was not that great–good probably, but not great. But that’s the thing, when I was dancing back then,
I felt that I was great.”
From then on, Cherish never stopped dancing, training under the legendary Felicitas Radaic, majoring in dance at the UP College of Music, performing with the UP Dance Company, and then becoming an apprentice at the Philippine Ballet Theater.
While her younger self had dreamed of becoming a ballerina, her older self had other plans.
“Instead of continuing to dance professionally, I got married and started my own school. So as a performer, my career was short-lived. Looking back, I wish I danced longer like many of my contemporaries,” she recalls.
Teaching came naturally to Cherish. She was, after all, already substituting in local dance schools. She adds, “To this day, I will never get tired of spending hours at the theater or at the school watching classes or rehearsals. I knew I also wanted to have a school that produced good dancers. I had no idea how long it would last or how far it would take me.”
Cherish’s Academy One Music & Ballet Center turns 25 next year, which is quite a feat for a ballet school in suburban south. Apart from having taught countless students, the school has also encouraged many talented ones through scholarships.
About 10 years ago, the school started a training program for Tuloy Foundation, a non-government organization that aims to be a center of excellence in the reintegration of street children into mainstream society.
Cherish says, “I thought it would be a good skill to learn as there are many job opportunities on cruise ships, amusement parks, etc.”
Much to her surprise, Cherish says, “Their adaptability to classical ballet exceeded my expectations.”
Two of the boys from that batch are now company artists of Lisa Macuja’s Ballet Manila, one girl an apprentice at Philippine Ballet Theater, and two others senior students at the Philippine High School for the Arts.
Three years later, Cherish conducted auditions for their second batch, and she recalls, “The line of kids who wanted to try reached from the first floor of the gym to the second floor! After seeing the first batch, many were inspired to try.”
It was this batch of students that produced her most prolific of dancers to date: Edmar Sumera and Benedict Sabularse. The two not only won medals at the 2016 Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong, they also made a splash at Prix de Lausanne, one of the most elite student competitions in the world.
Cherish says, “I cried when I got the letter that both made it to the 72 candidates chosen out of over 380 from around the world. All the students competing had been dancing for at least seven years! Everyone was shocked that the two had only been training for three years in a small school in the Philippines.”
Edmar is now studying at The Hamburg Ballet School and Benedict at Ecole Superieure National de Danse.
Cherish says, “It’s hard to say exactly why certain students do well while others don’t. Some realize it’s not for them or find it too difficult and these are the ones who end up stopping. But those who really work hard can do well. By doing well, I mean eventually becoming professional dancers in a local company.”
Diamonds in the rough
“The trajectory of the two boys is unprecedented and very unusual. They were special in different ways. Edmar had a good body for classical ballet. After only one year of training, he was given a scholarship to The Royal Ballet School for the summer. Benedict is not as gifted physically, but I knew he had something special. He moved so effortlessly and had this magnetism on stage. Both boys worked extremely hard to get to where they are now. Their approach to their classes is focused and single-minded,” Cherish shares.
While the boys are indeed talent, I would also add that they were also blessed with an exceptionally passionate teacher, who, in many ways, treated them like they were her own children.