Dancing our culture away

Reading a status message of a friend and batch mate from high school on my news feed on Facebook disturbed me. 

It was a disappointed comment about the opening number performed by Sarah Geronimo in her weekly show, Sarah G. Live! aired last Sunday, 12 August 2012 on ABS-CBN (Channel 2, on UHF). Sarah danced Singkil, a Maranao cultural epic dance, while singing adaptations of a number of novelty songs. I wasn't able to see it live, but I was too alarmed that I had to search for it online and verify. True enough, the pop star was doing a "modernized" version of Singkil. (Watch the video here.)

I shared my friend's (who by the way spent and devoted years to various forms of dance) sentiment. I felt that in as much as I want to assume that the show was promoting Filipino culture, it went overboard that for me affected the integrity of Singkil.

When I was in grade school, I would spend my summers learning folk dance in workshops sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. There, we would be trained by members of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe from the basics of the dancing to coming up with a full production of a Filipino dance. I remember (im)patiently learning one dance for weeks. I may say it was about excellence, but I realized it was some form of respect to the way of life the dance represented.

I vividly remember how before we would start learning a particular dance, our teacher will narrate to us the history behind it. We were taught various kinds of dance but I prefer the ones from Mindanao the most. Pag-apir is a cultural dance from the Lanao which shows various uses of the fan and how each move will tell a story. Dressed in Maranao costumes, we also showed how the Maranao ladies where supposed to walk and how they carry themselves. Kappa Malong-malong also showed how a malong (a tube skirt) may be used--a head dress, adornment, or skirt. The dance steps would also depict how a woman covers her face with a malong whenever men are around. 

Singkil is also of Maranao origin telling an epic poem. It narrates a story of courtship, courage, and heroism. The epic was about a princess who was was tried to be sabotaged by elementals. When the prince found out about it, he set off to save the princess, who later also saved herself. It was also believed that Singkil was a danced by the Maranao ladies of royal blood to invite suitors when they are ready of marriage.
We were taught that folk dances are not mere dances, but are series of movements that are rich with culture, religion, and tradition. She would say that these dances were an ethnicity's lifestyle or spiritual expression. With this in mind, I realized that whenever I move or take each step in the dance, I take part of a sacred culture. I also remember imagining being transported to another space and time every time the mallet hits the kulintang.

I do not say that Sarah or the staff of her show meant ill with their effort to come up with the modernized version of Singkil. What I am concerned about, though, is that while Singkil is performed to adapted novelty songs, the real essence behind this cultural dance maybe completely be forgotten. I doubt if most of the people, especially the younger ones, who saw that opening number knew the richness of the culture behind the clapping of the bamboos and the careful movement of the lead dancer's feet in between them. Or were they just amused with the seeming genius who thought of the number? In case the choreographer of this number was not wary about this, I am afraid that a very powerful tool--that is TV--was used to blur culture.

I also wonder what is the take of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts on this matter. Is folk dancing really a dying art? Are we just being too casual and liberal about it when performed since not everyone appreciates it especially nowadays? Is this an indication that Philippine culture and tradition is disintegrating due to the strong influences of other cultures?

Some may say that the performance was an evolution of sorts. Sorry, but I am still baffled. I do not fear modernization and liberalization, in fact, I too am a fan of it. But I guess I am hoping that the changes we take on while moving towards being contemporary does not wipe away the colorful past that paved the way for where we are now. Perhaps, when we learn to treasure these traditions, we will be able to find answers to the various questions that bother us about our country at present. Until then, let's just keep dancing.


Cheeno Sayuno said...

Hi. I read your blog and I share the exact sentiments. Our group was the one who backed up Sarah in her Singkil performance. We were truly against the repertoire, but my mentor told us that we have no choice but to provide what our client wants, even if it meant that we had to do Singkil with "Sige, Ikembot." What happened after was that the Sarah G Live people were tapped by the management because of this cultural-insensitive act. After two weeks, we backed up for ASAP and our routines, which were from Lolo Mon (Obusan), were respected. :) Mabuhay ang kulturang Pilipino!

jishinka said...

Thanks for your comment, Cheeno. It's good to know that the management knew that the move was culture insensitive. :) I am so happy to know that there are people like you who care about our culture and history. :)

Mabuhay! :)