09 July 2008

Equatorial Groove

Binasuan, a Pangasinense dance involving precarious glasses of water.

People always tell me that Filipinos "don't dance like Asians". Mostly they hold a stereotype of an oriental who is hopeless with the rhythms and moves of percussive music. While I usually do a counter-retort poking fun at the "White Man's Shuffle", I do know that Filipinos are a bit different. I saw a few folk dances at the Philamlife theater last week which led to some thinking and file-digging.

Certain places in Mindanao have kept alive the pangalay we have in common with Southeast Asia (since pre-Islamic times). The upland regions and other pockets have preserved their various tribal dances. But much of hispanized Philippines was subject to a different beat. Our music and outfits influenced by colonization, our movements somehow more earthy and fiery than our Asian neighbors, but more graceful than our Latin American brothers and sisters.

Pandango, with oil lamps on the girls' head and in a piece of cloth they are swinging around.

We have a lot of "show-off" dances. Donning percussive bras, banging on them, then doing cartwheels! Balancing fire and glasses of water on our heads and hands! Dancing among bamboo poles used to make loud banging sounds at the expense of maybe getting your feet caught between them! And so on and so forth.

This hotdogging nature probably originates from the fact that many dances were performed during fiestas. Like today, barangays or barrios often try to outdo each other with their dexterity, new "gimmicks", and moves. At any fiesta parade, people will lose interest if you don't do something different.

A particular favorite of mine is the manglalatik dance (also called maglalatik or manlalatik), where men strap coconut shells to various parts of their bodies (often there is one set that resembles a bikini top). Here's a Bayanihan video:

Forget wars over oil and water. Originally performed in Binan, Laguna, the dance was supposed to depict a dispute between Moros and Christians "over coconut residue" or latik! Look closely and you'll see that there are four parts in the dance, demonstrating intense combat and the succeeding escaramusa or reconciliation. I wonder who took the latik home in the end!

I tap your bao, you tap mine.

I then dug up a video I took in San Francisco of Peru Negro, "the cultural ambassadors of black Peru". While there are a lot of obviously African movements, they seem to have more in common with many of our folk performances than do Asian ones (at least in "feel"-- I'm such an amateur dance analyzer).

What intrigues me most is that we take such dances of ours to have pre-hispanic roots because they are often so different from those of our conquistadores. But factor in the often-overlooked fact that we were governed from Mexico for a couple of hundred years, and you get a very interesting mix of equatorial-abouts indigenous cultures.

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