Two Filipino STEPS Scholars Head Off to Ballet School in New York

Elwince Magbitang and Vince Pelegrin head off to the highly selective Jackie Kennedy Onassis School of Dance with help from their mentor, Sofia Zobel Elizalde.

It’s been an exciting year for Steps Dance Studio scholars Elwince Magbitang and Raye Vince Pelegrin. In April, the 16-year-old dancers found themselves performing onstage with principal dancer Stella Abrera and a cast of ballet all-stars from the American Ballet Theater (ABT).

From that opportunity, another one arose. The gala, which benefited Ayala Foundation’s CENTEX program of which Elwince is a beneficiary, gave these boys the chance to showcase their talent. This did not go unnoticed by Abrera and her husband, veteran dancer Sascha Radetsky. They were so impressed by the young dancers that Radetsky invited them both to enter a one-year program at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School of Dance in New York. 

Elwince and Vince show off their moves at the Kaatsbaan summer intensive

As of writing, the boys are preparing to fly halfway across the world with their “fairy godmother,” as Pelegrin fondly calls her, Steps Dance Studio founder and director Sofia Zobel Elizalde.


Pelegrin was given a one-year scholarship and Magbitang was awarded a slot and housing at the highly competitive dance school.

Raye Vince Pelegrin

Elwince Magbitang

Elizalde explains that the ballet studio has had students go through the difficulty of auditioning and applying to be able to even attend the summer program. This is the first time dancers from Steps have been invited to a prestigious school with an opportunity of this extent. “It’s a reflection of the standard of our school and the great teachers that we have, which makes me very proud,” Elizalde says. “It makes me proud that two of our boys have had the proper training ground to be able to go to such a selective school as the JKO School because there’s not that many students and it’s a very rigorous program. I think it will be life-changing for them.”

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A productive summer

This is not the teens' first time in New York. They fortunately had a first brush with the city in the summer. Shortly after the fundraiser gala, Abrera invited them to a three-week program at the Kaatsbaan Extreme Ballet summer intensive in Tivoli, New York. More than getting a taste of independence, they also got to train with ballet legends like Martine van Hamel and Kevin McKenzie from ABT, Lorin Mathis of the Boston Ballet, and of course, Abrera herself.

They started their days at 9 a.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m., but even after, they had lectures that ran well into the night. “Talagang mapapagod ka, pero marami kang matututunan,” says Pelegrin. (You’ll get very tired but you’ll learn a lot.)

Magbitang and Pelegrin performing at the fundraiser gala starring Stella Abrera and the American Ballet Theater dancers

There was live musical accompaniment in each class and the boys learned how to pay attention to detail. While both boys enjoyed the experience and getting to make new friends, Pelegrin liked learning from van Hamel, while Magbitang loved classes with Mathis.

Gifted students

During their years at Steps, the boys already showed extraordinary talent. Pelegrin, who was with Steps for nine years, consistently scored the highest in the seven exams he took under the Royal Academy of Dance. He placed 6th in this year’s Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong, while both boys placed 3rd at the Philippines Grand Cup. Pelegrin says his two little brothers, who have also been part of Steps, inspired him to pursue dance.

Meanwhile, Magbitang had the highest score in his Advance 2 level in his entire school, for which he won an award. He also won 8th place in the Asian Grand Prix, and was awarded the Benjie Toledo Award at the Philippines Grand Cup, together with Pelgrin.

Magbitang dreams of working with the American Ballet Theater one day, while Pelegrin would love to join the Royal Ballet in London.

Doting on the boys (as she does with all her other students), Elizalde reminds Magbitang to have his hair cut before the trip. She’s always stood in as their “dance mom," but  attributes their successes as entirely their own.

The boys with "dance mom" Sofia Zobel Elizalde

“It was because of their hard work and talent that they were chosen,” she says. She tells them: "How hard you work, your discipline, your focus—all of that will lead to the rest of your career. It’s what they make of this opportunity that would make them successful.”

Magbitang admits that he’s both excited and scared for his future. He knows that he has to be strong for the next year in order to get into the second year of training.

“I tell them, no matter what happens, the fact that you have one year with the best teachers in the world is already a gift,” says Elizalde, “You'll learn a lot in that one year. You are already winners.”

“And we can share it!” Pelegrin chimes in.

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