follow us on

Why Is the Filipino Dancer Such a Creature of Artistic Power? 'Bad Boy of Ballet' Jared Tan Enlightens Us

Jared Tan started dancing ballet at the age of nine, and he credits his sister for getting him into it. She started when she was three or four years old at the Halili Cruz School of Ballet in Quezon City, and always brought her brother along. One day, she asked him if he wanted to join.

Eh, pang bading ’yan eh,” Tan was quick to dismiss the idea. I wondered how someone who seemed to subscribe to machismo could be drawn to ballet. All I had to do was turn his statement into a question. “So how did you get over that notion that ballet was just for gay men?” I asked in Filipino.

Tan narrated how he saw a production of Philippine Ballet Theater back in 1995. He watched them dance and particularly noticed this one guy, the famous Osias Barroso. “He was doing jumps. I told myself he was even better than basketball players. I was inspired by him,” he shared.

It didn’t take Tan long to give ballet a try and fall in love with the art himself. He even recalled being given floral tights and feeling excited about them. “After ’nun, tuluy-tuloy na.”

Russian Ballet Master, Anatoly Panasyukov of Philippine Ballet Theatre (PBT) discovered Tan during a recital he participated in at Halili. He had only been dancing for a year back then. Panasyukov called Tan to a corner after the show and asked if he wanted to dance for the PBT, and he readily said yes.

At nine years old, Tan would practice alongside 20-year-old classmates, positioning himself at the very end of the bar. “Saling kitkit nga ang tawag nila sa’kin,” he shared. He hasn’t stopped dancing since.

Fragile notions of masculinity

I asked him if it was hard, dealing with our society’s fragile notions of masculinity, and how participating in ballet pretty much shatters one’s “manly” image.

Ako naman po kasi ang nambubugbog sa kanila,” Tan answered. He told us he was a bad boy when he was younger. I observed his disposition, which, while perfectly polite today, betrayed traces that he is telling us the truth. “They used to chant, ‘Hey, ballerino!’ but they eventually got used to me,” he said nonchalantly.

Ballet is Tan’s art of choice because he loves the challenge it entails. “And not all men can do ballet. All men can play basketball, but a man who dances ballet is rare. So I told myself it was interesting. I also used to be a varsity player in high school, but I soon realized that I was too short to have a future. At least ballet was possible.”

Sticking to his talent and hard work despite societal stigma soon paid off, as Tan soon found himself being flown halfway across the globe. He had starred in a restaging of Madama Butterfly at the age of 15, and it turns out a director from American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey was watching. Five years later, when they were looking for new dancers, they remembered Tan, who joined them in 2009. With them, he performed as the Prince in Nutcracker and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and danced roles in Rhapsodia and Twyla Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen.

He then moved to Atlanta and joined Atlanta Ballet, of which he remains a member today. “Kasi nirarayuma ako sa New Jersey. Ang lamig, eh,” he said. Today Tan is both a dancer and a ballet teacher. A typical schedule for him consists of practicing from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then teaching from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. His students also serve as a source of inspiration for him. Whenever he sees them working hard, he realizes that perhaps he, too, should employ the same level of dedication.

“It’s different,” he said, of working with American ballet companies. “You need to be on time and disciplined. Work lang talaga. You have friends, but it’s not like the friends you have here, where you go to Chowking after work. Over there when it’s work, it’s just work, and then you go home. Kaya nakakalungkot sa ibang bansa,” he admitted.