Educating the community about Filipino culture through dance

Story by RICH FAHEY

Filipino children in the Salt Lake Valley are getting involved in a new dance group as a way to help maintain tradition. Kulturang Pinoy Ensemble, or Filipino culture ensemble, gives Filipino youngsters the opportunity to learn traditional dances, and educates the community about the culture as well.

“We have a lot of young Filipinos growing up here, and we’d like for them to learn their culture,” said Teena Jensen, vice president of the Kulturang Pinoy Ensemble, in a phone interview. “It’s also a way to keep them out of trouble.”

The ensemble was developed at the end of August 2010 when some Filipino families became concerned that their children were losing their heritage. Jensen was a dancer in a similar Salt Lake City program that discontinued performances in 1998. The group’s main focus was to educate others about Filipino culture. While the new ensemble is following in their footsteps, it is a learning tool for both the audience and performers.

Dancers performing Sayaw sa Bangko, or the bench dance, at the fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Teena Jensen.

The Kulturang Pinoy Ensemble currently consists of 10 children between the ages of 13 and 18. The first performance was held on the evening of Sept. 11, 2010, during a fundraiser to raise money for costumes and props. The girls will wear a balintawak, which is a long dress with butterfly sleeves and a brightly colored overskirt that matches the sleeves. The boys will wear a chino, or brightly colored shirt. When the children outgrow them, plans are in place to pass the costumes down to younger children in hopes of getting more people involved in the ensemble.

Jensen said the program has seen a lot of interest from parents and children alike. When fully developed, the ensemble will have children as young as 5 years old dancing with the group.

“The younger ones come out and watch their brothers and sisters and say, ‘when are we going to start dancing,’” Jensen said.

However, it’s not just about the dancing. The ensemble also encourages the youngsters to learn the Filipino language. During each practice and performance, the children are given a Filipino word of the day. The group includes children who are from the Philippines, as well as those born here. The interaction between them is good for both groups, especially those learning the Pinoy language, Jensen said.

“It’s also learning respect from other Filipino children,” she said. “In the Philippines they respect their parents more than some of the children here do.”

The Philippines are made up of more than 7,000 islands, which creates diversity between the various areas. Jensen said each island has a unique dialect and is like a totally different culture. These different cultures allow for variety in the dances. Each dance has its own meaning and represents a story. Every performance is divided into suites that feature a dance native to a particular area or Filipino culture.

In an e-mail interview, Jensen said one dance suite the ensemble will perform is the Barrio Fiesta Suite. This is comprised of four different dances. The first is the Pista, which displays the lavish preparation for a party. Next is the Gala, also known as the Boholano. This dance comes alive with the clashing of pans, pots, plates, ladles and brooms with firewood, pails and knives to represent a wedding. The third dance is the Kalatong, a popular dance from the province of Batangas that uses bamboo percussion tubes. The finale, and perhaps the most well known of all Filipino dances, is the Tinikling, named after the Tikling bird. For this part the dancers imitate the bird as it avoids traps set by farmers.

The ensemble plans to perform the Barrio Fiesta Suite and others at schools, churches, fundraisers and any time the opportunity presents itself. However, the ultimate goal is to dance at the Living Traditions Festival in May and the Utah Asian Festival in June.

“That’s one of the main reasons for the ensemble, because people were asking – how come there are no Filipino groups performing at these events?” Jensen said.

Eunice Jones, president of the Kulturang Pinoy Ensemble and chairwoman of the Utah Asian Festival, said, “It’s not going to be just a dance group for one organization. It has to be for the whole community.”

Both Jensen and Jones are excited to share the Filipino culture with the community through the Kulturang Pinoy Ensemble.