Steps founder Sofia Zobel Elizalde on Carmen, Pina Bausch, and Zumba.
INTERVIEW NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY LANCER SALVA
Sofia Zobel Elizalde was introduced to the world of dance at the age of four by her mother. “She brought me to my first ballet dance and I loved it,” she remembered. “Little by little as I got older, I took it more seriously.” At 13, she enrolled at Elmhurst School of Dance in England. “That’s when I discovered that I wanted to make it a career. So I became very serious [about] it,” she said. Upon returning home, she joined Ballet Philippines (BP) as a company member—eventually becoming a soloist—under the tutelage of BP founder Alice Reyes, who was named National Artist for Dance later.
“I was almost at the peak of my career at 25 and I could have gone on, but I fell in love,” she said smiling. “I wanted to start a family. There was something in me that wanted to hang up my pointe shoes. I thought one day, ‘I think I’ve danced enough. Now, I want to go into other aspects [of life].’ But I could not give up dance because it’s a big part of my life. I wanted to go into the world of teaching—and it was an easy transition,” she said.
Thus began Steps Dance Studio, which offers scholarships to underprivileged dance enthusiasts. On its 24th year, Steps teaches kids ballet, modern dance, jazz, and tap dance. While she used to teach herself, Ms. Zobel Elizalde now mentors her school’s teachers and steers them toward her vision for Steps: “I want to have a progressive school. I really watch over the general training and make sure the students are well equipped,” she said.
She travels a lot to New York “to see what’s going on outside of the country.” (Her three children are also based there.) New York, arguably the center of modern dance in 1960s, is where institutions such as the Tisch School for the Arts, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance are based.
Can you name your favorite moment with Ballet Philippines?
Oh, so many. When I was very little, I was given the role of Clara in The Nutcracker and I did that for three years straight. That was a little girl’s dream come true.
I also got to dance Alice Reyes’ Itim-Asu and Amada. I got to do her Carmen, and I did the lead there. I was very proud to do her lead roles because now she’s a National Artist for Dance.
We did eight years of Swan Lake—I wasn’t the lead there but it’s one of my favorites. I got to do Myrtha in their Giselle. Many wonderful memories, but Carmen is my favorite.
Steps has collaborated with members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre. How do you choose who you collaborate with?
I love contemporary dance as much as I like classical. I am a fan of contemporary dances and I hope that maybe in the future I can bring small, progressive, contemporary companies like—surprise. We have to see. I am a fan of many. I love all forms of dance.
My mother introduced me to ballet while my father and I share our love for contemporary dance. Modern dance is beautiful. Neo-classic dance is beautiful as well. Any dance form that’s done at a high level is really, really lovely. I love classical ballet; I personally have a special spot for contemporary dance, modern dances—either Horton-based [a dance technique based on Native American dances, anatomical studies and other movement influences developed by Lester Horton] or Martha Graham-type of dance.
Music and dance go together. What music do you usually play when you dance?
Everything we do in dance has to do with music. One inspires the other.
I don’t play any instruments but I love music. When I hear music, I see movements or feel a certain choreography.
I love Vivaldi. While I like all kinds of music, when I am alone, I love listening to classical music. I am the Spotify addict in the house. Ask my husband. And I mean, everywhere I go, I play music—be it Zumba, or when I take a shower, or when I am dressing up. Music inspires and energizes me.
How did you get into Zumba?
Since I stopped dancing a long time ago, Zumba is my way of moving, of releasing energy. It gets me going. I miss ballet and I miss the training of ballet, but with age, the body becomes stiffer and it doesn’t move the way it used to. Sadly, I don’t do ballet anymore but I still try to stretch and keep my body in shape. I cannot do ballet like I used to: it’s so hard after a certain point in life.
If you want to dance ballet again, and relive your moments as a ballet artist, who would you want to dance with? Alternatively, what piece would you like to perform?
Pina Bausch. If I would dance again now, I’d love to do a Pina Bausch work, which is contemporary. She is passed away [in 2009], but her company still exists. She responsible for an incredible body of contemporary work. Her dances tend to make statements. There’s a film called Pina—watch it. It’s a film about her works, which are very powerful.
Her works are strong, outstanding, and statement-oriented. At my stage in life now, I’d love to be able to dance that way.