Growing up in the Philippines, Folk Dance was not something I particularly found exciting. Having my education under the public school system, I remember that we would have to learn Philippine Folk dance for our Physical Education courses (except at one point our assigned PE teacher was not a dancer and we played dance dance revolution for our PE class). Folk dance as I thought at that time was old and boring. This of course was in the early 00s when MTV was doing its thing shoving foreign musical and artistic influences-- a small part in the larger globalisation project.
I have always had an interest on Black- American artistic expressions appreciating rap, r&b, and hip hop. As a young Filipino I thought all of these were cool and hip. I remember having my hair cut like Zack, the black ranger who sported this crisp flat top whilst wearing baggy clothes. I then pursued hip hop dance and different black movement vocabularies such as Krump, and house. I trained, took classes, competed, performed, and battled throughout my time in high school, university, and even graduate school. And then when I returned to manila to pursue contemporary dance practice, I would occasionally take a class or perform with my university's streetdance/ hip hop dance team. At the present, I have immersed myself in the ballroom community, a community created by Black and Latinx queer people in New York, USA. Modern ballroom culture in the US began because queer pocs needed their own spaces. It was a product of the intersectional experiences of being people of colour and being queer. Like Crystal Labeija, queer people of colour experienced racial microaggressions in queer spaces during their time. Even though I have been in ballroom for a short time, i have found liberation, strength, acceptance and power. And while I am not black, I am a person of colour from a former US Colony. In some ways there may be similarities in the histories (and experiences) of Black and Latinx communities in the US, and Filipinos.
A huge component of US colonisation in the Philippines was an imposition of structures of governance and the education system. Armed with manifest destiny, Americans sought to "assist" Philippines to become an independent state after centuries of Spanish colonisation. What this meant was that there was hope for the savages of the Philippine Islands... if they will be taught ways of the civilised... they can be civilised. This was not implicit I argue as documented in the Philippine Exhibition in the St. Louis Fair of 1904. The exhibition was curated in a way that it shows the peoples of the Philippines in different stages of cultural evolution: savagery- barbarianism- civilisation. The beginning of the exhibit displayed "primitive" and "savage" practices. 'Igorot' peoples were tasked to conduct a ritual where they had to kill and eat dogs, everyday- for the spectacular consumption of the audience. The latter end of the exhibition would showcase Filipino lowlanders in an education setting, learning from a white teacher. In a more pragmatic manner, the US brought in the Philippines the Thomasites who are American teachers that took over public education systems.
Colonial influence in education... and in dance manifests in the current staged versions of Philippine Folkdance. Lorenzo Perillo in his writing investigated how modernist thought influenced Philippine Folkdance. In his article Embodying Modernism, he lookd into the books "The Chalif Textbook of Dancing Book 1" by Louis Harvy Chalif and the "Physical Education: Manual for Teachers" by Fredrick O. England. Both of these books as argued have influenced the writing of "Philippine Folk Dance and Games" (PFDG) by Francisca Reyes- Tolentino. The book "Philippine Folk Dance and Games" is one of the oldest and most important dance books in the Philippines. It is a product of Reyes- Tolentino's thesis in Education and has become a key resource for the teaching of Physical Education in the country. In writing her thesis, Reyes- Tolentino conducted field research, documenting folk dance practices and games. She was able to develop systematic instruction for the dance material that she has collected. Her work was lauded by the University and by the Philippine Government in that she has received support in researching and publishing of the other volumes of her book series. While Reyes- Tolentino's work was impressive in its research and fieldwork, Perillo's inquiry looks into the (perhaps in a rather latent) manner that PFDG had in shaping the bodies and the dances of the modern Filipino.a.x. here I lift Perillo's concluding statements:
While PFDG only briefly mentions Chalif’s and England’s sources, it nonetheless incites a provocative array of unexamined footways between the preservation of Philippine dance, the institutionalization of balletic positions, and the fabrication of colonial legitimacy. Both texts centralized expression as the major function of dance and offered similarly Eurocentric concepts of dance that powerfully impacted Filipino nation-building. Yet while one situated
dance as an enlightened art form in its own right, the other conceived of dance as a secondary instrument of physical education.65 One endowed hardworking followers with gifts of expression and strength, where the other emphasized the benefits of “great influence on the physical, mental, and moral status of the growing child.”66 They also differed in where they saw dance in the 1910s—dance in America was “catching up” to Russia and transitioning
from simple and social to technically refined forms for Chalif, while England’s notion of dance was omnipresent and universal. 67 Still, a choreographic whiteness bridges Chalif’s Greek
and Roman standards of machine-like artistry and England’s repackaging of white dances. The latter’s universalism, after all, relied on burying middle-class white women’s concerns around industrialization, immigration, and urban dance hall activities from which these folk dances were devised.
Images of balletic strictness and folk “wholesomeness” traversed across multiple geographic, media, and racial borders: first by white European emigrants to the U.S., then onto the written page by American dance researchers. From Manila, colonial administrators deployed these dances across the Philippines in efforts to subject proper colonials, reducing “peoples” into “pupils.” To be sure, there is still an agency question of how Filipino children received and executed these white dances. Nonetheless, these texts give further thought to the invention of “folk,” by which racial and choreographic details were adapted and omitted, and to the cultural flow of dance across colonial borders that was, in fact, full of “broken lines”—a trait less modern than these authors might have desired. A closer look at these embodied modernisms helps us understand how white dance is inscribed problematically onto brown bodies. In so doing, they inform Reyes-Tolentino’s limited agency in redefining the conditions
of colonialism, giving these oppressive institutions a robust and so-called universal language in dance. This was a prelude to the national milestone of Reyes-Tolentino’s preservation project
from which many contemporary Filipino and Filipino American dance expressions trace a lineage. These previously unrecognized influences call into question the very lines and curves of
classical and the “spontaneity” of folk.68
(Perillo, 2017: 133-134)
Considering the work for this residency (and my collaborator's subject), I am compelled to imagine a decolonial folk dance for queers in this century. What would a decolonial Filipino queer folk dance look like? In what ways would it resemble institutionalised folk dance practices? What are current ways of queer dance performances? Following my imagination of a queer folkdance assumes the decolonisation of folk dance practice and unearthing (or perhaps imagining) queer pre-colonial/ indigenous movement forms. This is absurd as first, centuries of colonisation has erased much information about queerness in pre-colonial life. Second, such proposition follows an essetntialist perspective towards culture- as though culture is stagnant and frozen in time, forgetting how Filipinos throughout history have reclaimed and reshaped meanings which have been brought in by our colonisers. Culture of course is a dynamic practice of meaning making. While colonial structures influence actions and mobility, meaning making is still an agentive process. Walter Mignolo's perspective in decoloniality provides a way to imagine such decolonial queer folk dance. An important aspect of Mignolo's discussion is the importance of looking into the peripheries-- spaces, which have been neglected by our inherent coloniality. These are spaces, bodies, objects and practices which have not been favoured by the structures which colonisation have set in place.
One thing comes to mind: Queer dance showdowns in basketball courts. Some would refer to this as "Luksong Bakla". But prior to the emergence of the term, young queers have been engaging with dance showdowns. I posit that these showdowns were influenced by the sexbomb girls, noon time TV dancers who are known for their powerful dance moves and acrobatic skills. Anyone who grew up in the Philippines during the 00s know who the sexbomb girls are. Their cute and feminine appearances were constrasted by their explosive dance moves accompanied by jump- splits, cartwheels, heel stretches that land on splits, and walk overs. Young queers would copy that dances of the sexbomb girls and similar dance groups of the time, engaging in dance showdowns. In recent years, videos of similar dance showdowns have become viral in the internet. These are perhaps a new generation of queer youth with the same acrobatic moves and another layer of movement vocabulary: the Dip. The Dip belongs to voguing which comes from the ballroom culture of New York City. It is characterised by a downward motion where the dancer lands on their backs as supported by their hands ,hips and a bent leg. The non-supported leg is often extended as the head gently touches the ground. It is unclear as to how these young queers learned how to dip but I assume that they know this from consuming voguing (specifically Vogue Fem) videos in social media. Other videos I have seen have also shown these kids doing clicks and stretches as seen in New Way Vogue.
Watch videos here
In general, folk dance is understood as 'dances of the people'. It is a taxonomic label for dances which are not found in the stage or in the theater. These are dances that people do after a day's work. It is a social activity in which the consumption of the dancing is done communally in shared time and space. And while such distinctions between concert and folk dances come from western dance history, occupation based and lesiurely dance practices are also found in non-western society. Moreso, literature would suggest that folk dances belong to the periphery of art making practices.
The case of including folk dance in theatric and concert settings and institutionalised education brings forth Philippine folk dance towards the center, as features of coloniality. Tha manner in which folkdances have become codified and standardised in dance books and in practice manifest the modernist thoughts that accompanied the colonisation of Filipino.a.x bodies.
This is why and how I argue that showdowns are decolonial forms of queer folkdance. Queer folk have been forced to take peripheral positions in society. Queer folk are tolerated and not accepted in terms of their identities, expressions and their rights. The performances of Luksong Bakla or Show Downs that parallel (and perhaps that take influences from voguing) I argue are agentive processes of expressing queer identities. Much like voguing in which the queers have created their own spaces and movement language for themselves, Filipino queers have created their own modes of expressions. Their influences come from the games they used to play as well as well as popular culture that they consume from various forms of media. The showdowns also assert queer visibility and presence in typically masculine spaces such as barangay basketball courts. It is a practice of queering of public gender performance, a powerful tool in challenging coloniality in our constructions of gender.