The Story of Jean Almeda as told to Macky Santiago

My Love for Dance

Dancing is such a beautiful art. With just the right mix of music, motion, and passion, dance becomes an unforgettable experience that can leave you changed forever.

So imagine what it’s like being fully immersed in this art every day from the age of 3 and then one day you find yourself feeling empty, like an emotionless robot forced to move, and burnt out.

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a prima ballerina while travelling the world. But for a couple of difficult years, the music, my heart for dancing, and even my plans had to completely stop.

When My Passion Waned

Up until September 2015, I was on my way to fulfilling my life purpose as a ballerina. My childhood and teenage years were filled with amazing opportunities to perform, learn, and prove that I had the talent to go far in the ballet world. I even managed to dance with ACTS Manila and Ballet Philippines. More importantly, God appointed people consistently affirmed that my path as a dancer, my gift, and my passion for art would all be fulfilled through pursuing ballet.

However, something shifted in me: I found the art world to be more overwhelming in ways I didn’t expect.

I began to ask,

“Was this what I really wanted? Or was this just something I was very good at that everyone encouraged me to pursue?”

For such a long time, I was immersed in the ballet world, dancing non-stop and teaching kids how to do the same. I was so consumed by my passion for ballet, but then everything slowly became routine work. At first, I thought it was just one of those days. I was simply tired so I pushed and tried everything to make me love dancing again. I became an emotionless robot doing pliés for an entire year. I dreaded the days when I had to go to the studio. I wanted to hide from everyone. I would spend all my breaks in the fire escape alone. I became jealous of the street kids playing on the road and the old man sleeping on the sidewalk. They had time to play and rest, while I didn’t. That’s when I knew I needed a real break from dancing. Maybe it didn’t have to be a permanent break, but at that time, it almost looked like it would be.

On The Bench

With a heavy but determined heart, I went on hiatus to let go of dance and just breathe.To be myself. Wrestle with the feelings I had about art and life. See where the road would take me.

Quitting gave me some relief. I was finally enjoying the free time with my friends instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have rehearsals.” But despite my break, I wondered constantly: what will happen to my dream of being a dancer?

While on break, I learned something interesting: God will sometimes build detours in His plans to humble us, build our character, and prepare us for who He wants us to be. He allows these detours so that we can walk in total surrender and have faith that He is sovereign over our lives. It’s a pattern for some of God’s children to go through a significant “time out.” Joseph, Moses, and even our Lord Jesus spent a lot of time “on the bench.”

As someone who has just finished some time “on the bench,” the Lord gave me fresh insight that I hope will encourage anyone who finds himself far from “God’s plan.”

Lessons from Being On the Bench

1) He shall never leave you nor forsake you.

Throughout my 4-year break, I never stopped seeking God, especially because I wasn’t at peace with leaving the world of dance with no definite return date. The uncertainty made me cry out more.

However, I found that every time I called, the Lord was there to comfort me, to reassure me of my place as his daughter and as a servant in his house. Like most of the Bible characters who went through their own wilderness journey, I learned to worship God deeper.

Even if I wasn’t dancing and pursuing my destiny, God was there in every trial, every problem, every heartbreak. Without condemning me, God helped me find peace amidst the conflict between the uncertainty of my future as a dancer and the weariness of my soul.

2) He is faithful to finish the work that He started.

There were also many God-ordained moments with key people. They did not only encourage me to keep resting, but they also reaffirmed that my dream was not just something people wanted for me.

I had journal entries documenting conversations and times of prayer with pastors, teachers, friends, and family. And these journal pages came together as a whole, confirming the larger message from God.

One of the key people who never gave up on me was Ate Erica Jacinto who encouraged me through her own stories of burning out and resting. She affirmed that I was too young to retire from dancing, reminding me that the doors to her studio were open to me anytime.

I even had journal entries where Ate Janina Rivera encouraged us to write down every prophecy I received, which led me on a trip down memory lane (through all my other journals) to show me how God was the One who called me to this art. It wasn’t my parents who called me to dance. Not my teachers either. It was the Lord.

The love for dance was not planted in my heart by man but woven into my spirit by God.

The scriptures say a bruised reed He shall not break. And to finish what God clearly started in my life, He had to make sure I could rest and that my heart was transformed for what was to come.

3) He shall order your steps and direct thy path.

Throughout my break, the Lord opened up several opportunities for me to teach ballet while I wasn’t dancing. I didn’t know it then, but God actually used these moments to slowly get me back in shape. It was also a humbling experience to start from scratch and dance with 13-year-olds.

Slowly Returning To Dance

After a season of learning about God’s faithfulness and being led by Him, that familiar pull of the Holy Spirit held my heart, turning it toward opportunities. And so, in fear and trembling, but in obedience to God, I auditioned for the American Ballet Theater summer intensive and the Kirov Academy of Washington D.C summer intensive & Virtual Year-Round Program. My body was trembling at this time because I was totally out of shape and in no way “fit” to dance at the level of these programs.

One by one, my applications were approved! This was proof that the moment anyone stops running away and steps into their calling, it’s God who will move, make way for you to get to where you need to be, and redeem the lost time.

Photo by Conrad Dy Liacco

Now that I’ve been dancing again, it still hasn’t been a walk in the park. My classes require me to live in two time zones, having to dance with an upside-down schedule: 10 p.m.-2 a.m. or 4 a.m., 7 days a week for an entire year.

But I understand that pain is just temporary. With His help, I am fighting through it all with a stronger heart and a calmer spirit, knowing that this is where God has called me to be.

Today, I am grounded in the simple truth that my Father in Heaven hears me, leads me, and will finish the work He started in me.

Macky Santiago

Apart from doing the desk job he appreciates so much, Macky spends the rest of his time trying to write (songs and stories) and hanging out with his wife and brother in no specific order.

Jean Almeda

Jean began her ballet training at the age of 3 with Chippy Lontok-Dioko. She then spent her youth joining dance mission trips, local and international ballet competitions, and received scholarships with the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet and Ballet Magnificat. At the age of 15, she won 9th place at the Asian Grand Prix and was a NAMCYA Dance finalist under the tutelage of Chelo Borromeo-Gemina. She is currently taking virtual ballet classes at Kirov Academy of Washington D.C. She started teaching at the age of 13 and is currently in charge of the dance department of Philemon Academy Foundation Inc. and a faculty of Dance Theater Manille.