The inspiring story of 2 street kids who became amazing ballet dancers

Vernise Tantuco

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The inspiring story of 2 street kids who became amazing ballet dancers
Nothing about ballet is easy, they say, but it is worth it. Meet Edmar and Benedict – former street kids, now ballet dancers with scholarships to London's Royal Ballet School's summer program

MANILA, Philippines – Shoulders thrown back, chin up, toes pointed, they sailed through the air with the greatest of ease. 

Before entering the Tuloy foundation, Edmar Sumera and Benedict Sabularse never thought of dancing ballet before – they were street kids, whose families were struggling to put them through school. 

STREETS TO THE STUDIO. Benedict Sabularse and Edmar Sumera are former street children who now have scholarships to the Royal Ballet School's summer program. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

But many of the kids in Tuloy, a non-profit organization that shelters and educates street kids, have taken up the art through the foundation and Academy One Music and Dance Center, which offers them scholarships.

Today, Edmar, 15, and Benedict, 16, have the opportunity to be scholars for the Royal Ballet School’s summer program in London this 2016. The two are joining the Royal Ballet School’s Covent Garden classes, a two-week non-residential course for 15 to 18 years olds in July. They’re also competing in the Asian Grand Prix in August. 

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Last year, Edmar had the chance to join the Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge program too, a class for younger boys.

Masaya po,” he said on his experience last year. “Kasi marami po akong na meet na bagong kaibigan, ta’s mga teachers po doon. Siyempre po meron din pong natutunan.”

(It was fun, because I met a lot of friends and teachers. Of course, I learned, too.)

His teacher at Academy One, Jeffrey Espejo, observed that Edmar has matured since his stay in London, too: “Now he knows his body and work ethic, that you cannot just play around, because Edmar is a very playful boy. He often jokes a lot. Now, he’s more composed, which I think is part of yung growing up niya (his growing up).”

After their scholarship in London, Edmar and Benedict are taking on their first competition, the Philippine Dance Cup, then the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong in August.

Before Tuloy

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Edmar and Benedict went through a lot before getting on their feet at Tuloy. Both had one parent leave them at a young age. Edmar and his sibling were raised by his mother and uncle, while Benedict, whose dad had another family, was raised by his grandmother and uncle.

After watching Tuloy’s first batch of ballet scholars perform and hearing them talk about it, Edmar and Benedict were curious. “Naengganyo po sa isip ko siya kasi yung first batch po, marami po silang napapasaya na tao,” shared Benedict. “Gusto ko rin kasi yung ganon, yung maraming natutuwang tao sa amin, marami kaming napapsaya.”

(It caught my interest because the first batch, they made a lot of people happy… I wanted that too, that a lot of people are happy because of us, that we can make a lot of people happy.)

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

But getting to the level they’re at now wasn’t easy. Most boys start formal ballet training at around 9 years old, and the two took their ballet classes on top of their regular schoolwork.

Edmar said that on school days, they usually get up at around 5 in the morning, pray, eat, and then follow the schedule Tuloy set for them on that day. Ballet training usually takes 6 or 7 hours, but whenever they have recitals, they can train for up to 9 hours.

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Edmar and Benedict are in for a more challenging time in London too. Jeffrey said: “Last year [Edmar] was [in] White Lodge, it’s for younger ones. Now, it’s the upper school, it’s more demanding, and it’s gonna be more competitive for them, because a lot of boys from different countries will be there. Of course, they’re not just ordinary dancers. They’re also good. It’s gonna be tough.”


Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Edmar and Benedict look beautiful and graceful when they dance, but getting there wasn’t easy.

“Halos lahat naman po mahirap sa ballet,” Benedict said when asked about the challenges he encountered when he started. “Mahirap pong i-stretch yung katawan, ta’s sabay mahirap din mag-pull up. Kasi dati po naka-curve kami, ta’s pinipilit po namin i-chest out yung katawan namin, sabay mag-banat talaga ng mga muscle.”

(Everything is difficult in ballet. It’s hard to stretch your body and pull up at the same time. Because before, our bodies were curved, and we forced our bodies to stand with our chests out, and at the same time, keep our muscles taut.)

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Standing up straight could be a physical manifestation of the self-confidence Benedict and Edmar said they developed after dancing ballet.

On the other things he’s learned from dance, Benedict added: “Kung paano magka-cooperation nang tama at sabay, paano disiplinahin ang sarili. Kasi hindi lang po step ang tinuturo sa amin eh, tinuturo pati disiplina. Ta’s po ano, tinuturuan din po kami labanin yung – kung paano magtiis – labanin yung lahat ng pagod, lahat ng paghihirap, lahat ng pagsusubok sa buhay.”

(How to cooperate so we all move correctly and at the same time, how to discipline myself. Becuase they don’t just teach us steps, they also teach us discipline. And we’re also taught how to endure, fight exhaustion, all difficulty, all the challenges of life.)

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

A closer look at them between dance routines tells as much. After being instructed to dance some sequences for a video shoot, the two were breathing hard from the exertion. But from afar, one could hardly tell. 

“Lahat naman po mahirap, wala naman po madali sa ballet. Pero maano ko lang po, masarap sa pakiramdam pag sumasayaw ka na po (Everything is difficult in ballet. But what I can say is that it feels good when you’re dancing already),” said Edmar on his struggles with the art. 

Even their dreams have changed since ballet – both have expressed wanting to become famous, principal ballet dancers. But both also said that they want to help kids like them: “Gusto ko rin po makatulong sa mga batang gustong sumayaw ta’s yung mga bata mahirap po tulad sa amin (I want to help the kids who want to dance, the kids who are less fortunate, like us),” said Edmar. 

Ta’s ano, gusto ko rin pong sumayaw sa American Ballet Theatre, ta’s gusto ko rin magcompete sa ano, World Ballet Competition,” he added. (I also want to dance with the American Ballet Theatre, and I want to compete in the World Ballet Competition.)

After all their hard work, Edmar and Benedict are reaping the fruits of labor and are on their way to achieving their dreams – they’re two kids from the street who are now dancing ballet. They’re two kids who have learned to fly. –


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Mayuko Yamamoto


Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.