Sofia Zobel-Elizalde has come full circle since her days as a company member of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines). Just as she was once inspired to pursue a promising dance career, she now inspires her students to do the same. As owner of Steps Dance Studio and Managing Director of Steps Scholarship Foundation in Manila, Zobel-Elizalde takes great pride in the fact that Steps is about more than dance — the Foundation enables gifted students to access a world-class dance education, no matter what their socio-economic background might be. Dance Informa’s Grace Gassin speaks with Zobel-Elizalde about her inspiring work with the Foundation and what it means to her.
Sofia, you founded the Steps Scholarship Foundation in 2007. By that point, Steps Dance Studio had already been operating for many years, having been established in 1994. What was it that inspired you to establish the Foundation?
“When I began my school in 1994, I had just a handful of students, and their numbers gradually grew over the years. As the school grew, I saw that there were some very gifted students who wanted to increase the number of classes they took as they grew stronger but instead dropped out because they just couldn’t cope with the fees. This was very frustrating, as talent can come from all walks of life. My goal for the school is to produce excellent, well-rounded dancers through excellent dance training, and eventually, I came to feel that the only way I could achieve this was through a scholarship program. It has been a huge success, and so many of our scholars have gone on to professional careers as dancers, choreographers and teachers.”
What are the major challenges faced by the Foundation?
“We offer partial and full scholarships depending on the level and financial need of our scholars, so, as I’m sure you understand, the hardest part of the Foundation is raising the funds. Luckily, we’ve had so many angels just give after watching our scholars — their dancing and passion just inspires individuals to keep coming back to give!
While the dance industry is competitive, we aim to give all our scholars a well-rounded dance education in ballet, modern dance and jazz dance so that they can choose to move in any direction they want. It gives them more flexibility when they are looking for work.”
You’ve often conveyed that you feel that Steps is about more than just dance. Tell me more about this.
“In my school, we don’t just teach strong technique classes; we also try to instil important values and an excellent work ethic in our students. Hard work, dedication and respect toward teachers and peers are so important. We want to inspire our students and try to encourage positive feedback at all levels of the school.”
What has the Steps Foundation come to mean to you and your school personally after all these years?
“The Foundation has become the heart and soul of our school, and most of our especially talented dancers have come from the Foundation. Having been in this business all my life, I can really see promise from a very young age, particularly in a student’s physique, coordination and natural sense of dance and music. Charisma also plays a big role and, of course, so does work ethic.
The beauty of our Foundation is that while our scholars come from diverse income levels, they all get the same training as a paying student would. There is great respect and friendship among everyone and a feeling that each student is encouraging the others to succeed. Our scholars have become like one big family, and even after moving on, there is great school pride and a feeling of wanting to give back. This makes me so proud.”
While there are many reasons to be proud of your Foundation, what makes you the proudest?
“What truly makes me proud about my Foundation, apart from our students’ achievements, is the love and loyalty that our former scholars give to our school after they leave. I can call on any of my alumni to help a younger scholar, and I know that they will always say yes. They also come back regularly and teach, share their knowledge, or simply visit. For this, I am extremely proud and grateful.”
What is your hope for the future of the Foundation?
“My hope is to continue to produce great Filipino artists who move on to succeed in many different areas of dance. I also hope that they take the values and lessons that they learned during their most formative years in my school and maintain their integrity and strong work ethic in everything they do.”
To learn more about how you can support the Steps Scholarship Foundation, please visit www.stepsdancestudio.ph.
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Scholars from the Steps Scholarship Foundation. Photo by Mr. Jojo Mamangun.