Sixty Shades of a Theater Stalwart

“We only live once, try not to hurt anymore, just live life and be happy, for life is too short to be miserable.”

At the age of 60, people commonly prepares for their retirement, searching for a good house to spend the rest of their lives, secures life insurance, finding the rest and leisure they deserve after decades of toil and hard work.

But for a 60- year- old like Gigi (her artist name); it is entirely a different thing. For her, every morning is a start of something new and every evening is a preparation for an exciting tomorrow. It is barely odd to imagine a lady in her 60s having the vigor of a teenager who had just got legal or the fashion sense of a maiden with the guts to wear elaborate ornamentations and dangling bling- bling’s.

Jorgina Felix Velarde- David confessed that she never see herself slouching on a queen- sized bed, spending the whole day watching poorly- directed telenovelas. She will definitely go out, spread her own wings, and touch people’s lives.

But to explain her youthful fashion, ask the Academy of Elegance, the school where she got the crash course in Social Graces, for her a la mode OOTDs (Outfit of the Day).

I was her personal secretary before and I confess that she is no ordinary woman, she is different of all the girls I know before (it is already a song).

A two- time nominee of Ten Outstanding Women of the Nation (TOWN) Award, two- time awardee of Gintong Gabay Award, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and a certified UNESCO Artist for Peace, at her age, Gigi must have been established; as a professor, a ballet teacher, a theater director, and as a mother. After all of what she has done, she can freely slouch now but what keep her going up to these days?

Being a part- time professor of humanities and theater in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and San Beda, Gigi has been true to her profession on molding her students the way teachers should be.

“I can leave teaching any time I want, I am already secured in life. I am not up to the money I earn from it. But the youth of today seems like needing someone like me, someone who is of service for them and that need keeps me in the academe,” said Gigi in one of our conversations.

As a theater and arts mentor, she is hands- on in every activity she conducts inside the classroom. She usually excites her students with her acting workshops, dance choreography, and creative activities she originally formulates for students to enjoy. For Gigi, learning doesn’t stop inside the school’s premise, that’s why she assures herself to get in touch with them even outside class hours.

One of her theater students even brought out how passionate Gigi as a teacher. Among their theater professors, only Gigi helps her student in their class productions from the casting, directing, and even in choreographing some dances for them.

Gigi explained that she is not the type of professor who will just throw a deadline on their students’ faces and let them work with it whatever way they want. She further said that they never learn in that kind of method. For her, her stage directions are her subject- matter and her choreographies are her daily lessons.

At the early age of five, Gigi had been saturated with theater pointers from her mother, Joji Felix Velarde, a popular prima ballerina and Herminio Velarde, Jr. the project director of Pacifica Productions, Inc., the prime producer of known Zarzuelas in the ’80s, the Philippine Native Broadway Theater.

She had already performed in different local and international stages. She had gone far from known Opera Houses here in the country to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Virginia and Canada. No more question about her credibility as an artist. At the age of 60, she is well- seasoned and fully- established.

From Monday to Friday, her schedule was torn into two universities which are a train station apart from each other. That sounds problematic for an ordinary ageing woman, but Gigi rocks it all away from the busy road of Teresa to the jam- packed trains of LRT. Indeed, Gigi is no ordinary working girl.

After days of passionate teaching, her weekend isn’t over. Every Saturday morning, she is travelling to Chinatown from Fairview to teach Filipino- Chinese toddlers with Baby Ballet. Gigi believes that dance isn’t just body exercises to stretch out our sleeping tendons and ligaments but moreover, an indirect way to teach values to young minds and to indict discipline among dancers.

After having some Chinese food for lunch in her favorite eatery in Binondo, she will be driven by her husband, Nonoy, to White Cross, an orphanage in San Juan, to teach ballet to kids out there for free. Annually, the orphanage prepare a concert for their stakeholders as a way to give back and to present kids that are ready enough for adoption.

As her secretary before, I’m with her in assisting to the production of the concert. Helping out these kids has been one of the most heart- warming events in my life. More than improving their skills and discipline in dancing, listening to their stories, seeing them grow as a person and go places has been a rewarding job for the both of us.

Gigi has been teaching ballet for 40 years now. She found herself more of a choreographer than a dancer. She takes pride of all the performers she had managed through the years. She is contented in just watching them from the front seat, reflecting on how far they had been.

But Gigi isn’t a fan of the classical genre of ballet, she often prefer the use of contemporary form of dance which for her is the highest form of dance since the genre was ought to interpret songs, tell a story, convey a message, touch hearts, and above all, invoke change.

Sunday, on the other hand, isn’t also a rest day for her. For this day, she plays the role as the artistic director of GFV Dance Fuzion Studio, her very own dance school. The studio was passed unto her by her mother.

“The Gigi Felix Velarde Dance Fuzion Studio operates on the principle of training for anyone and everyone who professes a willingness and capability to appreciate and to learn about dance. The studio believes in training the students to learn different genres of dances, after all the GFV uses the dance to teach values, to educate the person inside and out,” Gigi said.

She holds young and talented ballet scholars who are mostly coming from poor families. Ballet education, for all we know, is a commodity for the higher class society, but as a philanthropist as she is, she brings it closer to the masses as she believes on what the power of dance can do.

She was quite alarmed on the prevailing dance fad nowadays such as krump and hiphop, which are noisy for her and focuses much on showing skills and self- centeredness. As a Mass Communication graduate, she believes that the art of dance is a means of expression and like any other media, requires responsibility.

And this is her advocacy being a UNESCO officer for dance, to encourage the youth to support the better form of dancing, and that is dancing with a purpose; dancing with a meaning.

Aside from training poor kids, she is also mentoring deaf teenagers in Christ the King Church Parish with her values- oriented dance in the afternoon. Long before, she had done this with the Earthsavers Dreams Ensemble, a performing guild composed of blind, deaf, and other differently- abled youths, which had gone a literal “around the world” tour for their amazing act.

No one could ever think of the swag Gigi has in her age. With her six decade- old ballerina physique, it is surprising that she still never fails to point her toes, twist his hips gracefully; she can even afford an arabesque pose!

But more than the skills and values she had shared were the bright futures she had painted to all the scholars and students she had handled and being handled. Some had gone far to America, Europe and even in the local entertainment scene. They are all making names under her glory.

Aside from all this, she is still looking forward for annual summer recitals, anniversary concerts, guest performances and the original concept she had spearheaded, the “Interpretative Dance Workshop Competition Festival” which will be in partnership with the National Commission on the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and UNESCO through Cecile Guidote- Alvarez, PETA founder.

“The Interpretative Dance Workshop Festival competition is the first in the Philippines using the art of dance as a medium to educate the youth to appreciate and cultivate the Filipino Culture, to teach values through dance; values such as love of God, country, humanity, environment, peace and many others. All these values we try to inculcate to the young in order to have a better society, country, and people. The festival also aims to minimize the sensual, wild angry dance movement craze today and spread the highest form of dance and that is to dance with meaning. To be able to dance with a message that can leave food for thought for the youth to take home and ponder upon. We are hoping that there can be realization and social change,” Gigi explained.

Of all the careers she had been involved with, she sees to it that she never forgets her family to whom she offers all her efforts. She is married to Architect Jose Gamaliel David and has a single son, Justin Timothy, which appears to follow her footsteps on being a dancer and now, also a forefront to the new generation of dance artists today.

“There is 24 hours in a day. It’s pretty impossible, however how busy I am, not to attend to my family affairs,” she noted.

I know you’re being stressed on how this 60- year- old lady does all of this. She is truly amazing. She may have forgotten the word “rest” in her vocabulary. She is a living proof that age can never be an excuse to be exempted for doing something valuable and memorable.

As what she had said on her Facebook post, “Life is too short to be miserable.” It is true; life is too short to spend half of it slouching on the bed. Life never stops in the age of sixty and with that principle, Gigi lives a life sixty shades colorful more than others.

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