Meet Jamil Montibon, The Basurero Turned Professional Ballet Dancer
From the slums to the international stage
Once in a while, amidst all the bad news, we hear a story that restores our faith in the good. This time in particular, we heard about the journey of Jamil Montalbon, who used to pick up garbage after school to feed his family. And now? He’s a danseur under Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Ballet Manila.
Before dance entered his life, Jamil lived in poverty. He admits living a messy life with no decent place to stay. He did what he could to help his family, but it never seemed enough. Then the chance to dance came along and he immersed himself wholly in the art.
The road under Ballet Manila has not been an easy one. Out of all the applicants, only Jamil and two other dancers were chosen to train under one of the Philippine’s most prestigious dance schools. And while natural talent definitely had something to do with it, Jamil insists that it was his perseverance and hard work that really made him stand out.
Dance is a lifestyle that Jamil has made his own. There is so much good that comes from it, of which Jamil enjoys the company and performances the most. But while this is true, there is so much strife that he has to go through in order to put on a show. "Physically draining siya," he tells us quietly. "Pursigido lang talaga." He knows giving up is not an option, especially because he enjoys the craft so much.
"Pursigido lang talaga," Jamil on not giving up
Behind Jamil is his family—those blood related to him and the one he eventually found in Ballet Manila. These are the people that serve as his inspiration. He remembers what it was like before he slipped onto the stage and he doesn’t want his family to suffer again. He recalls how they used to live and knows that dance helped turn things around for them. In essense, he has ballet to thank for his current lifestyle.
Jamil never thought that ballet could help him and his family, but it did. They live more comfortably now and they can eat three times a day—a luxury that was hardly possible before he stepped on stage. "Nangongolekta ako ng basura dati para makakain pamilya ko," he recalls a little shyly. What’s great though, is that Jamil is more than happy to keep going. He genuinely loves dancing and is thankful for the opportunity to make it his career. He's inherently shy, but when he speaks about being on stage, his voice gets a little louder and a lot more secure. This confidence in his craft translates completely on stage. And he told us he’d keep dancing for as long as he can and that he’d love to be able to teach others one day just as his mentors had taught him.
“Kailangan lang ng tiyaga, sipag at tiwala sa sarili,” Jamil on what he's learned
But despite his successes, which includes dancing in international theaters, Jamil is still a humble man at heart. When we asked what his message to everyone else is, his answer was simple. “Dapat pursigido. Everything is hard,” he said. “Kailangan lang ng tiyaga, sipag at tiwala sa sarili.”
A true artist like Jamil continues to pursue and perfect his passions. But while his career is taking him places he once only dreamt of, he’s keeping his dancing shoes firmly on the ground and we simply can't wait to see more.