Dancing full circle at 80

Dancing full circle at 80
Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa dances with metal claws or "janggay" in the "Pulse of Pangalay" show in Santa Monica, California. —PHOTO COURTESY OF MALAYA

Dance is history; little is said, but much is understood. 

I made history through research, documentation, and publication of the traditional performing arts and related folk artistic expressions of the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines. 

To keep a dance tradition alive, it must live in a dancing body. Instinct guided me to nurture “pangalay”—“gift offering” or “temple of dance” in Sanskrit—in my own body, and likewise in those dancers who gained mastery through my method of instruction, regardless of age, shape, size, and gender. 

Curtain call for Amilbangsa —PHOTO BY COLLEEN ORDONIO

Frankly, there was no formal method of teaching the pangalay or “igal” tradition when I began learning it in 1969. Along the way, through countless workshops teaching pangalay/igal in the Philippines and elsewhere, I developed a systematic method of instruction: the “Amilbangsa Instruction Method (AIM)” published in 2019. 

A huge blessing

Another dance sequence in the show. —PHOTO COURTESY OF MALAYA

It has been 53 years since I first learned pangalay. In 1974, I organized the Tambuli Cultural Troupe in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. What a huge blessing that I can still dance. Last Sept. 24, two weeks before my 80th birthday, I danced in a full-length concert titled “Pulse of Pangalay” at the 10th-year celebration of the Malaya Filipino American Dance Arts (Malaya), and the 22nd year of the AlunAlun Dance Circle (ADC). 

This teamwork of Malaya and ADC was spearheaded by Peter de Guzman and Anna Lisa Gutierrez-de Guzman, the artistic director and executive director of Malaya, respectively. The venue of the concert was The Eli and Edy The Broad Stage adjacent to the Santa Monica College in California.

The ADC dancers based in the Philippines were Jimo Angeles, Levi Azarcon, Joy Ricote-Cruz, Rose Ann Jasareno, Abdul Mali, Nannette Matilac, and Manuel Siapno. Chloe Bernardo flew in from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Trini Derbesse from Paris, France. The traditional music instrumentalists were from Malaya and ADC and the songs were rendered by the Philippine Chamber Singers-Los Angeles. The lighting director was Anky Frilles, who worked in tandem with stage manager Grace F. Amilbangsa. 

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A bold leap

Indeed, this first-ever show of pangalay in the United States made dance history. It was a bold leap, a transformative coup which demonstrated the value of dance as living history. It informed those of Filipino ancestry of the beauty, depth, and versatility of an indigenous dance form tracing the Hindu connection before the advent of Islam and Christianity in the Philippines.

Wondrous music to our ears at the end of the dazzling performance was the thunderous acclaim, especially among the natives of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi who beamed with pride. We could have danced all night for the pleasure of our compatriots who lingered in the jampacked lobby afterwards. Enthusiastic students, administrators, and members of prominent dance companies in North America joined the well-attended pangalay workshop conducted by the ADC in Los Angeles a day after the concert.

What a way to celebrate the Filipino American Heritage Month in the United States. After more than half my lifetime immersed in the magic of dancing pangalay, who could predict what lies ahead in preserving, conserving, propagating, and popularizing such a captivating tradition beyond the next 80 years?

Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa is an artist, prime advocate and icon of the indigenous dancing of “pangalay.” She is also a cultural researcher and an educator. For her signature involvement in the study, conservation, practice and promotion of pangalay and other traditional dancing forms, she was presented the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2015. —Ed.

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