Saturday, April 2, 2016

Livin' the Disney dream

“Livin’ the Disney dream”
Sun.Star Davao, April 2, 2016

“I’m sure everyone’s thinking that it must be so great to be able to enter Disneyland every day. Well, let me tell you this, you are right. It is!”, gladly confirms 23-year old Ana Isabela Mempin or Belay.

For over a year now, Belay has been living her Disney dream as one of Hong Kong Disneyland’s energetic parade dancers tirelessly performing different roles in front of thousands of eager spectators.

The young Dabawenya’s fascination to work for Disneyland started a few years ago while she and her family were on vacation in Disneyland California.

At 14, Belay vividly remembers watching the Disney parade dancers with starry eyes. When she and her family went back six years later, Belay boldly declared to her mom Joy, “Ma, I’m going to be one of those dancers someday!”.

And, somehow, the universe made her ardent wish happen.

That thing called ‘tadhana’
“One day, I was just browsing online and stumbled upon the Hong Kong Disneyland job opening announcement. Some call it an accident, I call it fate”, says Belay.

Describing the screening and audition process as “nerve-wracking”, Belay recalls that there were so many talented applicants in their batch. “I was almost disheartened. But, I passed the first screening and the rest is history”, states the Ateneo de Davao University Major in Entrepreneurship graduate.

Belay’s love affair with dance began when she was four years old. As a child, her doting parents, Joey and Joy, enrolled her for summer ballet classes at Locsin’s Dance Workshop and Royeca Ballet and Performing Arts School. Meanwhile, in high school, Belay took hip hop summer classes at LCB Performing Arts Center and joined the Ateneo Dance Club until college.

When she was 16, Belay was awarded a scholarship at LCB where she was able to strengthen her foundation in several disciplines, particularly: ballet, jazz, hip hop, belly and contemporary.

“Unfortunately, after four years, I had to give up my scholarship because the schedules were in conflict with my full time job at our family business. However, the passion for the craft was burning in me, and I just had to find an outlet to keep it alive”, intimates Belay.

So, the avid dancer enrolled for two classes at LCB, became a licensed zumba instructor and taught belly dancing and pole burlesque at Trimlab.

“How I was able to juggle all of that and keep up with my day job, with my father as my boss, I may add, is still a mystery to me!”, chuckles Belay.

New roles

“The life of a Disney parade dancer is kind of like that of a cast member in a musical. We come in, warm up, do our makeup, perform, rest, and prep again for our evening parade. It's just like the day of any performer, except more magical”, describes Belay enthusiastically.

Belay reveals that various roles are assigned to the parade dancers. They are then trained for a few days depending on the difficulty of the role.

But, being a Disney parade dancer is not the only new role that Belay is playing in Hong Kong. For the first time ever, she is also experiencing life as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW).

“This is my first time to live away from home. Growing up, we were blessed to have all basic needs readily available and I think everyone would agree with me that one of the biggest struggles when living away from home, especially in a different country, is to have to do everything for yourself. No one else is there to pick up your dirty clothes from the floor, or wash your dishes, or make your bed, or nag you to do all of that!”, laughs Belay.

Paying the bills was also one of the biggest reality checks. Thankfully, despite their comfortable social status, Belay’s parents always made it a point to instill in them the value of saving. So, budgeting was not that much of a struggle.

“Actually I was so frugal during my first few months that I turned down every invite from colleagues to go out for dinner or some drinks”, reminisces Belay.

Biggest reward

“The biggest reward for me as a performer, and I speak for all performers, is the smiles we see while we are out there”, expresses Belay.

“What I think is even more heartwarming is when I see my fellow Filipinos cheering us on. When we hear them scream "kababayan!", we sometimes can't help but tear up. It's like a little taste of home”, she continues.

Belay considers seeing all the families and missing her own as the most challenging part of working overseas. “Being the second child in a brood of five and having two of the kindest and coolest parents, I miss going home to them. I miss being part of my siblings' milestones. I also miss having a car. I miss my yayas!”, divulges Belay.

“That's why, when you do get the chance to watch fellow Filipinos perform overseas, don't forget to show your support. It's far greater than all the riches in the world!”, Belay points out.

The brilliant performer’s advice for aspiring Disney dancers is an inspiring quote from no other than the founder, Walt Disney, himself, "All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

“And most importantly,...whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)”, the bubbly Belay concludes. 

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