How Do Cultural Dances Teach Culture?

    Ever since my freshmen year of college, I have actively been part of PCN here at UMD. (PCN here stands for Philippine Culture Night). I have done everything from modern dance, to cultural dance, to acting, to singing, to writing, and to even planning. After all these years, I never knew the origins of PCN from across the country because I thought it was limited to the area. Only from this class did I learn that PCN is done all over the country and originating from the west coast.  Gonsalvez did a very good writing of PCN on the west coast, and there definitely similarities between PCN here at UMD compared to PCN on the west coast, but there are also differences. Despite those differences, the main point of the shows are to exemplify Philippine culture and ideals or to introduce it to those who have never seen it. However, this short post will explore the actual part that cultural dances play in the PCNs here at UMD.

     In the 2013 PCN, the main issue of activism and rising up against political injustice was chosen in order to give inspiration to all people in the audience, especially the youth to rise up.  What can that say about the Filipinos here in the DMV? Well because UMD is so close to DC, many of the students in FCA are part of other organizations, such as AALEAD, that aim to be leaders in the AAPI community. Coincidentally, the lead actress of the play has been involved in a variety of Filipino activism groups in the DMV area post-graduation.  In 2014, PCN was focused on three generations of Filipinos: the elderly, the parents, and the children. Issues included dementia, financial issues, acceptance with homosexuality, and succeeding under pressure in college. Three generations gave the audience more to align with and feel for, but the main theme that tied them all together was the strength of the family.  Like many Filipinos across the world, usually the most important ideal is the family.  In 2015, PCN was focused on interracial relationships and the struggles of traditional Filipinos to accept outside cultures into their own.

     In the midst of all of these PCNs where does the Philippine culture actual exist? Yes there are traditional dances that are done, usually in correlation to the story or scene that they are part of, but how do these dances actually exemplify the culture? By showing the dances to the audiences, they get a small taste of the styles of Filipino culture. They can see the vast differences in parts of the Philippines depending on what dances are done, what the styles are, how they are dressed, etc.   In the actual pamphlets for PCN, a description of each dance is mentioned and that is how more info is given to the audience.  For the general body members doing these dances, they learn the backgrounds and stories of each dance, and whether they are Filipino or not they are learning about culture. Coming into college, I did not know much about my Filipino culture and history, or even the parts of the Philippines. The dances that I have learned of seen have given me new insight to parts of the Philippines and the different types of people that live there. There are muslim parts, provinces with high spanish influences, some very native tribes, and others.  In 2011, FCA added its very own Cultural Chairs as 2 executive board positions to guarantee that culture is not dismissed during PCN.  Oftentimes, these cultural chairs are learning about Filipino culture for the first time, and they must make sure to be precise in their teachings to make sure they are teaching the culture correctly.

     Cultural dances not only teach and introduce the Filipino traditions, but they also celebrate them as living in the modern age.  In all honesty, the Philippines is very different from Korea and Japan because the traditions that resound through the country aren’t limited to one.  Because the Philippines has a diverse and rich history,  it is easy to overlook older traditions from newer ones. Dance has been a successful tool in celebrating the many traditions that have lived through Philippine history. Dances are also taught from either professional choreographers, or similar to Bayanihan tapes, but youtube videos of past performances. These PCNs recycle and re-use dances from such videos to make them time-less, and just so long as that is being done then a part of Philippine culture will be able to live through many years, just so long as they are taught and described correctly.

     An example of a Filipino dance that has been done at UMD PCNs is called Singkil. This was actually mentioned in Gonsalvez’s reading about the “bamboo dancers”. Performers must do the dances and also provide the instrumentation.  There are fan girls, a prince, a princess, bamboo clappers, a priest, and percussion crew.  This is a popular dance of the Muslim suite because of all of the moving parts that it brings together, but because of how much culture people are able to see. In past PCNS, many that have watched stated that their favorite dances weren’t the modern pieces, but rather that one Singkil dance. Partially because it was the longest dance, and again because of all the moving parts.

     The dance components for PCNs aren’t just for show or just to fit the “culture” requirement, but are added to teach the cultural message and to give everyone, including general body and audience members, a new part of the Philippines and the culture.  The dances have reverberated for many years and are documented by many schools and people, and just so long as they are taught correctly and performed well enough, these dances definitely do teach culture.
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