The dance of personal persistence


Elizabeth Lisa has spent her adult life teaching others to move gracefully through plots with conflict, romance and injustice.

Since immigrating to Canada, the Indonesian ballet instructor has pirouetted through a real life narrative of job search, integration and achievement.

A winding story of loss, personal persistence and a mistaken taxi driver have made her an entrepreneur who lives what she teaches.

“Ballet is about life,” she says. “It’s about determination.”


Arriving in the Vancouver Airport in 2005, Elizabeth Lisa Widyatmaka and her family members approached Immigration. The border agent looked at the ten letters of her family name. Showing frustration, he swiftly decided, “From now on, your last name is Lisa.” In the same brief conversation, her two teen sons’ lost their family name as well and were left with only first and middle names.

Just like that, ten letters from Lisa’s identity disappeared.

Dance School Dilemma

After settling in northeast Surrey, Lisa joined an ISSofBC job search training program. She heard about an opening for a ballet instructor in Abbotsford. Cheerfully, she pursued the opportunity with a resume and was soon offered an interview. For this job seeker who had no car at the time, that meant taking a city bus to Langley and then a Greyhound bus to Abbotsford.

Upon arriving at the Langley station, the optimistic newcomer was saddened to learn her bus had been cancelled. Luckily, there were taxis at the station.

A personable taxi driver looked at the school name and offered to drive her to Abbotsford, about 30 km away, to the school which he claimed to know very well.

Half an hour and $80 in cab fare later, they arrived. Feeling triumphant, Lisa walked through the front doors of the school.

After a quick conversation, the job-seeking ballerina realized she was at the wrong school.  But upon hearing about her experience, the owner offered Lisa a job anyway.

Later that day, the original school called her and invited her back. Arriving in Canadian with prestigious Royal Academy of Dance membership made her valuable. She set up another interview, and then got that job, where she continued working for several years. She declined the offer from the other school.

Lisa bought a car and got her Canadian driver’s licence as quickly as she could. The whole bus and taxi thing hadn’t really worked out for her very well.

Continual Work

Since arriving in Canada, Lisa has normally worked six days a week for two different dance schools. During breaks or slow times, she had to find alternate ways to make an income. A creative and resourceful person, Lisa has delivered newspapers, worked in retail and more. She raised her sons on her own when her husband returned to Indonesia four months after their arrival.

Personal Persistence

Life is full of complications; Lisa had her share, too many to describe here. Yet, when the opportunity came to start and grow her own school at the end of 2014, she grabbed it. AzestA Ballet School (azesta.ca) is her creation and her growing group of students in Abbotsford and Langley practice and perform under her direction.

She’s had ample experience with operating dance schools. In Indonesia, her Vidyarami Ballet Studio (translated, it means “Knowledge Queen”) grew to eight branches after its 1989 opening.

“I was younger and I was stronger,” Lisa says, “but now I have more experience.”

In Abbotsford and Langley, she’s had success attracting ballet students from a range of ethnicities. A solid one-third of her students come from the Sikh community. Lisa has also had success drawing boys to ballet.

At the moment, her students are preparing for a December performance of Sarah and Tasha:The Redemption of Joyeux at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on December 13.

After this performance, there will be more.  The immigrant who became a Canadian citizen in 2008 will continue building her life here.

“This is the place I belong to now,” she says.

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.


18 thoughts on “The dance of personal persistence”

  1. I would like to say to Lisa that you did a good job, this is the real life of most new comer who would like to build his life by his own self,I appreciate your hard work and I congratulate you for your achievement, I am sure that you are so happy.
    I would like to say to all new comer, what is the meaning of happiness:
    Happiness is to do your work or job, and as much as the job is hard and great, the happiness is great.

  2. Lisa was very impressive in this article.
    She coped with a lot of difficult circumstances and got a successful life as a new immigrant.
    She has a strong mind, never gives up and works hard every day.
    At last she found a good job and made a great experience in Canada.

  3. As an immigration, I am so proud of what Elizabeth Lisa has achieved. If there is one thing we learnt from her life experience is to make the most of it no matter what life throw at you and it proves again and gain that the harder you work and luckier you will get. Lisa started her life in Canada with nothing,yet,she followed her heart with lots of hard work to fulfill her dreams and help others. She gives hope to millions newcomers to Canada to build your own lives and shine!

  4. The life is hard but Lias has a goal that she wants challenge the new life in Canada.So she has hard working as new immigrant to face the life.she worked in different two dance schools.
    She is a successfull woman.

  5. The greatest lesson that I have learned is “Never give up on your dream”.
    You should work hard and never be afraid to reach the point where a newcomer can ,
    with little effort,find the result been working,for so many years to get.
    Lisa’s story shows us that you can,even though you’re the new immigrant and everything is new to you should not give up the dream !!!

  6. In this story of Lisa,in her first country she had skill already,when she immigrant Canada.lucky,work hard forever,some newcomer cannot find there skill job ,there are more troubles and keep on the lowest income,so optimistic,persistence,work hard is the part of the conditions, when chance come,it will be successful easily.

  7. For most newcomers, everything is new. We have to built our life from the beginning when we move to another country. From this post, Lisa was lucky; however she might get over more problems than we knew. At the end, she thought she belonged to this place. I’m so happy to hear that and it also inspired me. Finding a job is a good way to know this country from co-workers and join in this place for every immigrants.

  8. This story tells us never give up your dream, and keep work hard on it, it will come true in future. Success belongs to the person persevering and persistence. Lisa continual worked hard for several years when the opportunity came, she grabbed it. It means she is smart and courage.

  9. This story tells us never give up your dream, and keep work hard on it, it will come true in future. Success belongs to the person persevering and persistence. Lisa continual worked hard for several years when the opportunity came, she grabbed it. It means she is smart and courage. I admire her.

  10. Lisa is a persistant woman who can achieve success. As a new immigrant, she had made great efforts to face life, which is not easy for a woman in a unfamiliar environment. She gives the newcomer a fine example.

  11. I admire her for this big opportunity because she is persistent woman and great mother, she gave a great message for get everything with a lot of effort .
    She is professional and positive woman that worked very hard for get everything in a new country for her.
    Thank you.

  12. I think Lisa is a smart,capable woman who can seize the opportunities every time. Besides that, she is also a hard working person who had normally worked six days a week for two different dance schools for almost 9 years, untill right now she succeeds in having her own ballet school.
    Her story indicates us that we should never give up and the achievement will come up sooner or later.

  13. I admire her! According to the article, I see she is not only a strong,persistent people, but also a great mother. For the sake of her life, she is constantly working to make an income. When her husband returned to Indonesia ,she raised her sons on her own. It’s really not easy. However, she persisted and succeeded. I congratulate her!

  14. In my opinion, lisa under her work hard to become a successful women, knew from her story even if you are a new immigrants, even if you’re English not good, as long as you work hard can make your dreams come true,let us well worth to learn from her, even when you are in a strange place can live out our wonderful life.

  15. Lisa’s story made a deep impression on me. I’d like to pay my tribute of praise to her achievements. I think she is very positive,creative and active to overcome her difficult situation. She gave me a good message “you have a frontier spirit” I really can’t imagine how she can stand such hard time.

  16. I was moved by Lisa’s story very much. She has a very strong mind and made appropriate decisions all the time. I think that she always tried getting any opportunities as much as she could, also she didn’t give up even she was suffering in her life. If I were her shoes, I wouldn’t achieve anything like her did. I realized working continuously at the same type of occupation makes a great experiences and a confidence to go the next stage. I think she is a very splendid person and the story of her life is impressive to immigrants in Canada.

  17. Lisa is very Luck and Success because she has dancing professional. This professional doesn’t need very high English language. She doesn’t need from begging, and she can work as a dancing teacher. On the other hand, if you was a Math teacher or an accountant, you must study English very hard ,then you need go to university to study for four years. Of cause , Lisa also work hard to became a dancing teacher.

  18. I think Lisa is very hard working and stronger as a new immigrant. For example, she has worked six days a week for two different dance schools. During breaks or slow times, she had to find alternate ways to make an income even though delivered newspapers. Otherwise, she got more experience. It is very important in Canada. She also became a canadian citizen and continue building her life. I am so happy she is successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *