Solidarity in the time of COVID-19 -- MS Supplement

Structure will save you

Structure will save you"Lisa Macuja Elizalde will talk, not about dancing, per se, but how discipline and structure will help many workers and professionals navigate the new normal."

After retiring from a much-celebrated, internationally-acclaimed dancing career, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde focused on her work as teacher, choreographer, artistic director, and CEO of dance company Ballet Manila. She also pursued her advocacy of training public school students in classical ballet and the performing arts through Project Ballet Futures – an internationally recognized community scholarship program. She has lived up to being a "Ballerina of the People."

But when news of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, and when the government imposed lockdown measures to contain its spread, she, like many people, went through several phases in dealing with the sudden change.

“First, there was denial,” she says, a sense that things were not as bad as they seemed, and that soon everything would return to normal.

She went from this to not wanting to do anything at all. There was a period of lag, a “vacation mode” – she started waking up later and later each morning, a far cry from the rigid routine she had observed ever since her younger days as a dance student.

She found herself becoming increasingly upset and anxious. After all, she had to cancel performances and recitals because of the lockdown. She sent some of her foreign dancers back to their home countries. She was not sure if she could pay all of her dancers and assure them of continued income. Her children, who were in the US, could not come home to the Philippines.

Eventually the need to keep in touch with the company amid the quarantine prevailed. Through a popular online conferencing platform, Macuja-Elizalde started holding company classes three times a week. And then they had an idea: Why not open up these sessions to non-members?

This was how Macuja-Elizalde started giving online ballet training to students not only from the Philippines, but from other countries as well. Over the next few days, more people enrolled, and those from different time zones did not mind attending the classes at unholy hours.

“Everything fell into place,” she says. The classes enabled them to raise funds for freelance dancers and artists displaced by the pandemic.

It’s not easy. Macuja-Elizalde found herself exhausted as she adjusted to shifting her mode of teaching online. Virtual instruction could be frustrating. “Nothing takes the place of being there in the studio, being able to touch my students as I guide them. With this new means of teaching, I am challenged to translate everything verbally, and from a screen. Even now, I am still learning, still refining.”

Nonetheless, given the times, she realized how amazing it was that technology is allowing her to reach more people.

It’s a way of broadening the community, but it’s also a way to get on with the future – the new normal. Among the most affected by this pandemic are professional performers, those who perform before live crowds. Nobody knows when we would be able to go back to studios, and stages in front of an audience.

Then again, it’s a challenge confronting all industries. Under these trying conditions, people struggle to remain productive while at home. Some wonder why they are less productive and more anxious than they should be. Everybody is working differently and running into difficulties they have not encountered before.

To this end, Macuja-Elizalde has agreed to share her thoughts during a webinar organized by the Philippine Society of Talent Development. Her talk is called “Finding Strength in Structure and Discipline During these Uncertain Times” will be at 2PM on Thursday, May 14.

“The beauty of working from home is that you are in control,” Macuja-Elizalde says. “Getting into a routine, having structure, following a schedule should keep you mentally and emotionally in check.”

She will draw from her experience as a ballet dancer. When she was much younger, dancing was a mere hobby; when she was around 14 years old, she committed to it and made sacrifices to make good on this commitment. After school, while her friends went home and socialized, she donned her ballet shoes and practiced for long, grueling hours, every day.

The PSTD session will be useful to everybody, but Macuja-Elizalde wants to reach out to the women of the household – specifically working mothers, who have to balance so many things at home while also having to sit down in front of their computers to work.

Learning professionals learn

Learning and development is an activity traditionally performed through face-to-face interaction. Classroom learning where the teacher/ speaker stands in front, while the students/ participants listen, has been the standard set-up. 

At the back of everyone’s mind, digital learning was always an eventuality. It had to be, given the technological developments happening. Digital learning was already introduced as far back as seven to 10 years ago. However, a lot of organizations delayed the transition because it was expensive to set up. 

And then came COVID-19.

Learning and development professionals like members of the Philippine Society for Talent Development sought ways to do remain active despite the massive cancellation of classroom trainings and learning conventions. Indeed, while a shift to digital learning was always on the horizon, all of a sudden it became a necessity, the only mode in which L&D could survive given the fact that everybody was on lockdown. There was no luxury of time, after all, because one had to either be agile and adopt fast, or be left behind. 

PSTD has been quick to respond to the call of the times. Headed by Maricel Benitez (executive director), Jessie Rebustillo (chairman) and John Baluyot (president), it organized Oplan HOPE, a team created to help learning professionals cope with the crisis. 

Oplan HOPE's committee leads are Jose Decolongon (research), Jun Roy (programs), Marby Tabungar (digital learning), Rowell Mariano (membership) and Rex Tuozo (marketing). And then, Learn From Home is the task force created to give free webinars. It is headed by Baluyot, with members Luz Magat Mercurio and Lawrence Co.  

Mercurio,  founder and managing director of Strategic Learning and Professional Development Consulting, says the learning sessions have three themes: Roles leaders play in times of crisis, how to support teams in times of COVID-19, and how to digitalize training. 

Speakers come from various organizations around the world, with as many as 400 participants per webinar. The Learn From Home series benefits from a rich network of big organizations. Mercurio herself used to be with GE, the global benchmark in leadership learning. There have been speakers, too, from Google, Globe Telecom, the Center of Creative Leadership, the Australian Institute of Training and Development. The speakers so far have been from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and India. Mercurio and her team are looking for more speakers from Africa, Canada and China for a wider perspective. 

We have to do things with greater agility because we are using a relatively new platform, Zoom,” Mercurio says. In the past several weeks, they have held more than a dozen classes with thousands of participants. Everybody is learning -- and learning fast. 

Digital learning, now that it is upon us, is here to stay. “Now, most companies are compelled to do digital learning to complement work-from-home arrangement,” Mercurio says, “It is projected that 30 to 40 percent of office workers will now do work from home as part of the new normal.”

In the end, it’s all about agility. A facilitator will have to learn to translate presentation materials to match digital platform requirements. “Because interaction has different dynamics, even the most seasoned facilitator will find discomfort as we move to a different platform,” Mercurio says. 

So far, among the topics that PSTD has covered are building a culture of empathy and the need for future fluent leaders; upcoming talks will be about building resilience, blending traditional and digital learning solutions – and Macuja-Elizalde’s session on discipline and structure. 

Go to for details, or visit their Facebook page. 

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Topics: Lisa Macuja-Elizalde , Ballet Manila , Project Ballet Futures , COVID-19 pandemic
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