Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fil Am Modern: Are You Funkier than a 5th Grader?

Check out this clip from the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC) at Point Fermin Park in San Pedro on Sunday, September 9th. These young people (ages 4-14) are from Oxnard, CA, just north of Los Angeles County.

Not to the (numerical) magnitude of the Filipino version of "Thriller" or "Sister Act," but these kids kill it with their skills and technical nuances (watch the really small ones pop the off-beat!).

Is dancing in our genes?! Well, I sometimes ask myself that when I see my 3 year old family members do coffee-grinders on the kitchen floor, but it's probably more the institution and tradition of choreographed dance at universities with a critical concentration of Filipinos. In fact, the choreographer of Undeclared (the group above) is an alum of Pac Modern at Cal State Long Beach. Also, we have to consider the long tradition of theater performance among Filipino college students: Pilipino Culture Nights (PCNs) and Barrio Fiestas are staples of Filipino community-building at colleges (that and the keg). See Anna Alves and Theo Gonsalves for more on Fil Am theater in U.S. colleges.

At all of the universities that I have attended (or teach at), Filipino students seem to dominate the choreographed dance scene. At the University of Florida, our Filipino Student Association always placed first, second, or third at the university-wide dance competitions. And it seems that my friends from various campuses across the country are extremely immersed in competitive dance. Whether it be in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, or Georgia, young Filipinos are spending more time doing 8 counts than studying for midterms. Dance is a HUGE institution for Filipinos. (How many versions of the matrix or the puppet can you do!? How many times does the one or two b-boys gotta do a flare, somersault, or suicide front stage for audience reaction before it gets old?! Hip hop tinikling again!?)

Another interesting observation: many non-Filipinos love dancing with Filipino dance troupes. Whether your group is called Pac Modern, Samahang Modern, Kababayan, FSA Modern, what have you, as much as the troupe is "Filipinized," the reality is your group is probably very mixed ethnically. Many Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese, and Caribbeans made up the FSA dance troupe during my time. This definitely added a wonderful, interesting mix.

I'm still waiting for the day when there is a nationwide Fil Am campus dance throwdown. Does it already happen? (Of course there is World Hip Hop Championships, but is there a coast-to-coast Fil Am dance championship? West Coast universities vs. FIND campuses, man!)

So why do you think competitive, choreographed dance among Filipino youth is such a national phenomenon, even transporting itself to the Philippines and other countries?

And where do non-Filipinos, particularly other Asians, fit into the Filipino dance community? Where do Filipinos fit into the tradition of street dance? The ever elusive gradient of FUNK!


Anonymous said...

damn those youths are nasty!

yes, i agree whole-heartedly that dance is a staple of fil am and filipino partying. every celebration or get-together there's bound to be some cha cha, some swing, maybe a little disco, and of course, line dancing! whether there's a hired DI (dance instructor) or some unofficial one, you know everyone's doing the same moves to mambo #5 or the todo todo. perhaps this is why the 2nd generation youth are so into choreography.

but it's very interesting that they do these big elaborate routines that are mostly imitations of mtv videos, i.e. not exactly hip hop dance (although hip hop beats are used). it's more akin to "street jazz" a la wade robeson, with a little breakin/poppin/lockin thrown in for good measure. but those latter 3 dances some would consider pre-hip hop dances anyway since they were created during the funk era. however, over the years, early 90's hip hop has been great for breakin and gfunk/j dilla have helped evolve poppin. i digress.

i'm just saying that the routines usually don't have unquestionably authentic hip hop dances like the wop, jookin, turfin, heel toe, etc.

but whatever. what is authentic these days anyway? bottom line, our routines and dance skills as a community are sick!

MV said...

Yeah I think hip hop dance has changed over time, and now this type of choreographed dance is called "hip hop" dance, and parents actually pay for lessons for their kids. Weird huh. Anyway, hip hop has always been about improvising and less staged, rehearsed performance. But you can't deny this shit is still dope, and these young Filipino folk are really takin the art to the next level. maybe cuz we're easily controlled. just kidding.

jenny l said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

haha, this brings me back...i remember the days i was in the filipino american association of upper chesapeake (faauc) and every year, we'd have a dinner dance that not only showcased our traditional folk dancing skills but also our "modern dance" choreography. although, we never looked as good as these kids.

these kinds of showcases continued into college, and then i got tired (and busy). but in the years that i spent with the fca at maryland, i remember non-filipinos wanting to be part of the pcns and the dances. it was often a running joke that they were "honorary" filipinos, which i was never comfortable with. there also seemed to be this perception of filipinos as the cool, fun, party people. to an extent i think it was true, but i usually got the impression that other asians hung out with groups of filipinos because they wanted to be "cool" in the same sense but did it in such a way that they shed their own ethnic identity.

i don't know if competitive, choreographed dance was transported to the philippines. seems to me that it's kind of a two-way exchange, or maybe it's more reciprocal now. take a look at the shows on tfc and you'll find all these young actors dancing (even though some of them can't dance, so then they sing, but sometimes they're horrible at that too). but then again, they're often dancing to music from the US....hmm...i dunno.

an observation as i was watching the video: did you notice the gender break down of the dance troupe? within fca there tended to be a lot more women (female bodied persons) participating in dances and the organization itself. also, who tends to be the choreographer? women? men? or both since i've noticed a lot of choreographed dances tend to have one for women, one for men, and then a combination.

Anonymous said...

i would have left the comment here instead of facebook..but i was having problems opening this thing up. anyways i wanna drop my 2 cents here too.....

ohhh i love it!! those kids are sooo great and bring back so many great memories. it might just be that I don’t know very many young "Asian" kids here in jax.. but you don’t see that here. As i was growing up in Northern California (Suisun City.. ohh yes!) me and my homegirls in elementary would hang out and just make up our own dances to the latest hits on 106.1 KMEL just for fun. sometimes we'd perform them at our "garage parties"... but it was mostly just for fun. Then i move to Santa Rita, Guam (Naval Station, Lockwood! ohh yes again!) and its the same vibe. my parents were part of Fil-Am.. and us middle school girls, some high school girls and a few of the "kuyas" would get together and choreograph dances that we would perform at the fil-am parties and sometimes even at school and basketball games. Us older ones would even make up a few routines for the younger girls in elementary school. we were never asked to or never forced to... it was just part of life somehow. we just did it because we enjoyed it. memories. so much fun. i tie it to hip hop. i move out to jax.. and i didn’t see it as much- could be because i was new- i didn’t know where it was all at. Paid (yes PAID) to join a dance class bc i missed doing it.. which it turned out to be more jazz bound. dropped that after a year. then i learn that there is some hip hop choreographing around in the Asian community. mostly going on in the Westside of jax (the famous bother and sister Oliver and carol).. which for some reason there was this whole Westside vs. Southside rival thing going on. so i never bothered. also once a year there would be a whole big Asian dance comp @ Gainesville. but only once a year?.. there would be a few debutantes here and there that had dances. But i go back to visit my family out in cali and it warms my heart seeing my younger cousins getting together to practice and choreograph dances to perform at parties for our other relatives and just for fun because it is still part of the vibe out there....even after all these years. i miss it! and seeing that video.. I am very glad to know its still going. ..and wow a Fil-Am group in Cali..... boy do i miss it. why is it that our youth in jax is so uninvolved?.. the fil-am organization i was part of in Guam and cali.. it was normal for the kids to attend the parties and functions..no one was forced to go...we all wanted go to. we all would ask if we can perform.... when i first moved here my parents tried out the fil-am here in jax.. i was kind of excited- maybe i can start dancing again.... i go with my parents to our first function (think it was the induction of officer's ball- which i have always known to be a big thing... couldn’t wait to see the dance style the teenagers got going on here) come to find out- the kids aren't even part of it. it was mainly an adult thing. and the ones that did come. they looked bored and forced to be there. why is that?....

Unknown said...

To sister arlyn,

When did you move to Jax?

That's a really good question: How come kids aren't involved in Jax? I think there's a SERIOUS cultural space missing for the Fil Am community. There has always been a generational divide with parents and youth and even more division within the older generations, and you know about the westside/southside rivals.

I don't know what it is, but when I grew up there was a huge dancing scene, mostly breakin though, but the choreography was still there, mostly through Church groups.

I'm actually really concerned with the Fil Am community in Jax in general, all this value in assimilating are having its cost...it makes Filipino solidarity or dialogue really tough out there.

But watching those Oxnard kids is pretty uplifting! I never thought i would get hyped seeing my younger sisters-n-brothers crankin dat soulja boy!

I have a lot of memories being part of traditional dance routines, I think we take the choreography dance forms in two levels:

1- We dance traditional to reinforce our history to PI, maybe we are curious of our roots or we are simply forced by older generations to remember

2- We dance Hiphop because we want to push our self-imposed identity envelopes but in one-way it's assimilating us into the music we listen to. Or it could be the alternative to Auntie line dance routines.

Honestly, I could never hand with the hiphop choreography, too much cohesive, predicted movements for the bboy in me!