The first day I walked up to the Kababayan booth at the Anteater Involvement Fair my freshman year of college, the first thing I asked was, “How can I be a part of your culture night?”
For the next four years, I did just that.
I grew up dancing Philippine cultural dance since I was 12-years-old. I had seen several cultural nights across the Bay Area prior, quietly judging and cringing at the butchered arm movements and poorly performed folk tales I saw being showcased. “Their arms aren’t strong enough!” I said to myself. “They need to show more passion! They are not in character!”
For me, I was blessed to have even known what “passion,” “character” and “strength” even meant when dancing. Having been a part of the Kariktan Dance Company, which was formed by a real Bayanihan alumna (the National Dance Company of the Philippines), I was trained by a folk dance professional and exposed to dances that embodied our culture beautifully and accurately.
And so my first year in PACN, I let the experience take over me. I created bonds with new friends who motivated me to stay in PACN. My second year, I put my heart into choreographing the Maria Clara suite with my Co who helped an “insecure me” along the way to create those strong arm movements, confident body postures and charismatic smiles that made the Maria Clara suite as beautiful and elegant as it was supposed to be. My third year, I found myself coordinating and directing the entire production (“Aming Pangarap: Our Dream”), putting me in an uncomfortable position that taught me a lot about the logistics of producing a $27k production, all the while coordinating and leading a board of 37 students (and being a full-time student myself).
After just three years, I felt that I had done my part. I had a full PACN experience and gave it everything I had. Coming into my fourth and final year, I decided to take that step back and enjoy PACN for all that it was.
“What more is there for me to grow from this,” I told my ambitious self. I wanted to live my last year of college apart from solely Kaba and PACN, but also towards the things I may have missed along the way–friendships, relationships, concerts, writing, music, film, music making, etc.
Just in the past year, I had seen my “small dreams” unfold. I had coordinated a production; held interviews with popular singer-songwriters and musicians; published new articles; befriended musicians who have inspired me; kept contact with industry professionals who helped guide me toward career “success.”
“Things kept looking up,” I saw. But “there’s still more,” I felt.
This last year, I decided to take that step back and enjoy PACN for once; I also had the rare opportunity to perform with the Rondalla (live Philippine folk music band) on the night of PACN.
After news of this got out, a friend had written me, “It’s like you embody PACN itself since you’ve performed, coordinated a suite, produced one, and now are playing with rondalla.”
I think that quote encapsulates just what my PACN journey has been for me. As I’ve lived through and experienced every in-and-out of the culture night, I hadn’t known what it was like to be a performer in PACN since my first year. Rather than feeling as if I wanted to do more in PACN my first year, this last year had me feeling a sense of relief, as I was free to enjoy it without feeling like there was more for me to do.
And so I played traditional music; danced hip-hop (hilariously) with my closest friends within Kababayan; helped, guided and mentored my friends within the Moro suite, providing them choreography and dance tips; and let myself aimlessly live through the experience without any expectations, hopes or goals for the first time throughout my PACN experience.
As the end of my college career is quickly coming to a close, it’s been good to reflect and round out my PACN experience. As culture, dance and music have always been things I have felt very strongly about, it’s been good to share and spread my love for the Philippine culture. And this last year let me enjoy what it is I have loved about PACN all these years.
So, continue to let the traditional kulintang beat within you; let the pulsating beats of the bamboo drums reverberate through you; be mesmerized by the various colors that make up our culture; and let yourself grab the opportunity to grow, lead, serve and feel inspired through this experience.