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Building Community Through Philippine Dance

Community * Connections * Contribution
Bayanihan * Kapwa

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Folk dance is an integral part of Philippine culture. Filipinos in the diaspora used it to keep their connection to the culture and imparted the dances to new generations. Philippine dance became a major catalyst in building community while being the most visible expression of the Filipino American experience.

Philippine Dance

In the Philippines, folk dance has always been an integral part of the culture. It was an elective for physical education and always included at celebrations, formal and informal gatherings, from town fiestas, to weddings, birthdays and baptismals.

Filipinos in the diaspora used Philippine dance to keep their connection to the motherland and as they began having families imparted folk dances to new generations. The Filipino Women’s Club was established in 1949 and became a major stepping stone for the evolution of Philippine dance in the region. Philippine dance became the most visible expressions of the Filipino American experience.

Philippine Day at the Fair

Under the auspices of the Philippine Consul General of Los Angeles, Alice Hawkins directed the Filipino Women’s Club first major contribution of performing at the San Diego County Fair for Philippine Day on July 3, 1950. 

1950 Photo & Souvenir Program of courtesy of The Hawkins Family

Folk Dances

As more Filipinos migrated to San Diego, Philippine dance became an integral part in the upbringing of new generations of Filipino American youth. Regional organizations were established in the 1960’s. The Cavite Association showcased its young adults at the Southern California Folk Dance Festival at the newly open San Diego  Civic Theatre in 1965.  

Courtesy  Lily Vales Abad
of Temecula

Teaching New Generations of Dancers

The Filipino Women’s Club continued to teach new generations of dancers led by Pacita Elegino of Sherman Heights. The House of the Philippines in Balboa Park was established in 1961 and each year they provided a Lawn Program in June to commemorate Philippine Independence Day from Spain. They invited the Filipino Women’s Club to provide the cultural performances.

Courtesy of Anamaria Labao Cabato (June, 1965):

ABOVE Left to right: Susan Garong, Vicky Elegino Austin, Pacita Elegino (standing) Ana Labao Cabato Mercy Cruz, Jeannie Fontanilla and Doris Fontanilla

LEFT Left to right dancing Erlene Fontanilla, Tess Labao Paquette, Lupe Labao Macario; Center back row: Doris Fontanilla

Two elders to the left of the dancers are Filipino community leaders Teadora Miraflor and Vincent Elequin.

Folk Dancing in San Diego

San Diego celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 1969 and San Diego City Mayor Frank Curran approached the Filipino American Community Association to give a Salute to San Diego’s 200th Anniversary. Under the leadership of President, Delfin Labao,  Paz Marquez Uro of Chula Vista and Dr. William Yumul of Lemon Grove stepped forward to help organize a three-hour tribute for the celebration. 

From the San Diego History Center 

Eva Ricasa as the princess in the dance Singkil and was Miss Philippines in 1962 and Miss Imperial Beach in 1965.

Ernesto Flores, Jr. designed the cover of the Souvenir Program. He was the first Filipino staff writer for the San Diego Union Tribune and established the Filipino Press, one of the longest standing Philippine newspapers in Southern California.

Philippine Fiesta Souvenir Program
Courtesy of PASACAT

The Sounds of the Rondalla

There’s nothing like the sounds of the Rondalla that captures the heart of lowland Philippines. The Rondalla is composed of the bandurria, laud or octavina, which are 14-string instruments, whose origins are from Spain. In the summer of 1979, Bayani Mendoza De Leon was a UCSD Fullbright Hays Scholar who offered a Rondalla course at the Center for World Music at SDSU. PASACAT and Samahan Philippine dance companies sent members to the class. In 1983 they collaborated for the Magandang

Pilipinas album featuring both Rondallas and the PASACAT Choral Ensemble in a collection of folk songs and choral pieces. The majority of the members were from the South Bay. The display includes a bio of De Leon, an original score penned by De Leon in tablature format, a 1982 Asian Pacific News article announcing the album,  a photo of De Leon rehearsing at PASACAT in 1981, bronze wound string used for the bandurria and a plectrum.

Courtesy of PASACAT

SAMAHAN Filipino American Performing Arts and Education Center

Samahan was first initiated as a youth program in Philippine folk dance for the Council of Pilipino Americans Organizations (COPAO). Dr. Lolita Dinoso Carter received a grant to formally establish the Samahan Philippine Dance Company in 1974. Today, they are known as SAMAHAN Filipino American Performing Arts and Education Center holding  classes in National City, while staging festivals and performances throughout San Diego County. 

Courtesy of Samahan FAPAEC

The Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble is a musical component of SAMAHAN. It is led by Dr. Bernard Ellorin, of Paradise Hills, an ethnomusicologist who studied under kulintang master, Danongan Kalanduyan, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

Courtesy of FANHS

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Check out our presentation slide show to get an in-depth look at the history of Filipinos in the military.

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