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A Look Into The Life Of A Ballet Philippines Principal Dancer

Denise Parungao has been dancing for 17 years, and she’s here to dance for many more

Open Ballet Philippines’ website and you’ll be greeted by two stunning photographs of Denise Parungao. Each photo is raw, arresting, powerful. She’s in a red dress, staring directly into the camera, her eyes deep and impassioned. In another, a black-and-white image showing off her form perfectly, you can almost feel the photograph come alive.

Denise—or Ate Den, as she is fondly called by her co-dancers—has been dancing for 17 years, nine of which have been with Ballet Philippines. For the company’s golden season, Denise is part of every production—from Swan Lake to its finale, Alice ReyesRama Hari

What advice can you give to people who are interested in joining the arts but are too hesitant—maybe because they think it’s too hard, or it won’t lead anywhere?

We all need to start from something and you can start by trying. Besides, the beauty of art is in the risk that artists take. It’s important to have the courage to pursue something that you truly believe in. I can’t say that everything will be easy, but it sure is fulfilling! It takes a lot of hard work & effort to be considered “good” in your craft, but as you all know, all artists are perfectionists; we are just never content with what we do and what we’re capable of... it gives us drive and purpose. That’s why we continue what we do even if other thinks it will lead nowhere. 

What’s the best thing about being in the performing arts?

For me, the best part of being in this field is every moment we have on stage of becoming someone else & completely ourselves at the same time. Every moment on stage is different, all special and can never be repeated, that is why what we’ve shared with our audiences and what we both experienced that time is very precious. 

What are you most excited to experience in Ballet Philippines’ 50th year?

I’m excited about our upcoming productions. We just finished Swan Lake, now we’re preparing for Midsummer Night’s Dream, then Cinderella, Itim Asu, and Rama Hari.  

Who are your mentors in the industry?

I have a lot of teachers since I started dancing. They’ve all contributed to who I am and what I’m capable of. I’m very grateful to all of them. But now, the one who’s keeping me sane when I’m going crazy with all the pressure, frustrations, tiredness, and improving my technique is my fiancé, Joseph Phillips. He’s a ballet dancer too and he’s danced around the world. I’m really lucky I have him in my life. 

What’s next for you in the near future?

More performances, here and abroad, hopefully. I’ve always dreamt of having my own ballet school... I’ll have to see if I can make that happen soon. 

If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be doing?

I’ve always been into multimedia arts. I have so much interest in filmmaking & photography. Maybe someday I can study about it and pursue it too. 

Can you tell us what a typical day is like for you—when you don’t have shows, and also when you do?

At work, we usually start at 2pm and end rehearsals at 10pm, but sometimes soloists have morning rehearsals so that’s extra time at work. I do teach sometimes too, at Ballet Philippines and my former ballet school. If we still have energy after 10pm, my colleagues and I go to our favorite ramen place in Malate to cool down and chat about life. 

When we have shows, we’re mostly inside the theater the whole day. 

If I don’t have work, I just stay in bed, or go to the cinemas and the mall, you know, just to make me feel there are other things than dance. My fianceé and I like to eat out, we like good food!

Of course, not to forget about doing laundry, cleaning my apartment, etc!

What’s your biggest aspiration as dancer?

When I was just starting to dance professionally, my goal was to become a principal dancer and to dance my dream roles. That’s big for a 15 year old. Now that I’m doing the roles that I love and I’ve learned so much in the process, I want to share it and to inspire young dancers to keep dancing, pushing, and dreaming, because dreams do come true. 

For myself, I still think about dancing in a company abroad, and dance more internationally and be someone our fellow Filipinos would be proud of. 

What’s your dream role?

Every role is a dream to do but if you ask me what’s my favorite or what I prefer, I’d choose the roles with more weight like Juliet from Romeo and Juliet or Giselle, Carmen... I like them more than Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I love drama and pain. 

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