By Elizabeth Lolarga, VERA Files
Photos by Cynthia Paz and Tony Lacaba
Ligaya Amilbangsa, cultural researcher and conservationist par excellence, dancer and doubtless a living national treasure, found a good way to pass on her dance instruction method to a new generation through the AlunAlun Dance Circle's (AADC) Yuletide performance "Pangalay sa Boys' Town" in Parang, Marikina City.
Amilbangsa is behind the revival of the Mindanao dance form called pangalay (its literal meaning is "gift" or "offering"), a meditative dance that follows natural breathing and is reflective of the movements of waves. Since October up to December this year, her circle trained 29 children in Manila Boys’ Town.
Rosalie Matilac, AADC lead dancer and managing director, said, "The young people came from difficult circumstances: physical abuse, labor exploitation, child trafficking, troubled neighborhoods, homelessness and other dire situations."
Since the 23-hectare complex in Marikina is also sanctuary to about 300 toddlers, boys, girls and elderly who were abused, exploited and/or abandoned, Matilac said the pangalay method was a way for the residents to "learn an effective way to transcend their circumstances and uplift their souls. Their stories are heart-breaking: children who were left in the streets by their parents, children whose young bodies were sold by their own relatives, old folk who nobody wanted anymore after their productive years were over."
The classes were held five days a week. Matilac described the newbie dancers thus, "They're so good! This is the AlunAlun's and Ligaya's way of propagating the art form by imparting the dance to the oppressed and the marginalized. It is her way of coming full circle. The land where Boys' Town stands was donated to the city of Manila by Marikina at the time when Ligaya's father was Marikina mayor in the 1950s."
With financial aid from Harnessing Self-reliant Initiatives and Knowledge or HASIK, a non-governmental organization, the circle carried out Amilbangsa's vision of "making pangalay relevant to the younger generation and to the present-day audience," Matilac said, adding that the dance form "will vanish if we don't introduce a way of teaching it to others outside and within the community. Many traditional gestures and steps have been forgotten by the residents themselves of Tawi-Tawi [where pangalay began]."
Amilbangsa, 70, lived in Taw-Tawi for many years and is a tireless, hands-on teacher. For the Marikina recital, she applied makeup on the faces of the girl performers, a way of helping raise their self-esteem.
From the pangalay teachers, the boys, girls and senior citizens from the home called Luwalhati ng Maynila learned to dance together intuitively (pakiramdaman) and without touching one another. They mimed the movements of the waves, the wind and the flowers in gestures that are also found in other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Cambodia.
Matilac recalled how the trainors from AADC would often ask the seniors during rehearsals, "Kaya pa ba ninyo (Can you still do it)?" The unanimous reply was always, "Kaya pa (Yes, we can)!"
She also said, "The elderly wards are so happy that a group of teachers spent time to teach them pangalay. The pain in their joints disappeared along with stiffening of their bones and other body parts. One old man asked them, 'Bakit niyo kami pinag-aaksayahan ng panahon e papalubog na ang buhay naming (Why do you bother to waste time on us when our lives are ending)?'They can all relate well with Ligaya when they learned that she is already 70."
They danced, even jammed with pangalay core dancers like Amilbangsa, Matilac, Mariel Francisco, Temay Padero, to the music of Mozart's Sonata in C Major, Andres Bonifacio's "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa" as sung by Inang Laya , even to the riotous music of Yoyoy Villame ("Granada" with two teenagers in shades and vests, looking like guns for hire,"Buchikik," "Tsismis," "Mag-Exercise Tayo" and "Nasaan ka Darling").
Even when Villame's lyrics and upbeat tune were at their funniest, the dancers were required to wear expressionless faces. The old folk astonished the audience in their ability to still bend their knees, a gesture also required by pangalay.
Francisco and Padero showed, through the number "Bula’bula," how a dance can be done without recorded music. They used bamboo clappers, symbolizing seashells, to provide the percussive beat. Matilac's and her co-dancer's interpretation of "Linggisan" mimicked the movements of birds. They wore the janggay or metalic fingers.
The children, especially the recitalists, gathered on the sides of the stage because for the first time, they saw their teachers dance in full costume.
Capping the show was Sampaguita's rock hit "Bonggahan" with the Manila Boys' Town and AADC members dancing to it with a straight face.
If anything, this recital proved that an art form as ancient as the pangalay can still empower the weak, the poor, the deprived and the oppressed.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)