In 1995, pangalay dance guru Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa stopped teaching. The lack of diligence among students of traditional dance had caused her to lose her enthusiasm. Hopeful dancers requesting lessons at first failed to convince her to change her mind. But in January 1999 she decided to teach again, having collected a long list of applicants in the intervening years. Thus began a weekly community dance workshop in her suburban home in Antipolo City, Mega Manila. For those who joined the weekly sessions, learning from a dance master was exhilarating, especially on the eve of a new millennium.
In 2000 the excitement over pangalay and other traditional dances of the Sulu Archipelago inspired the motley group of dance students under teacher Ligaya to formally establish the AlunAlun Dance Circle (ADC), with their mentor as company artistic director. ADC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, conserving, and propagating pangalay, which, according to teacher Ligaya, has “the richest movement vocabulary among all Philippine dances, and the living link to the dance cultures in Asia.”
Pangalay, also known as igal among the Sama and pansak among the Yakan, took root in the Sulu Archipelago before the arrival of Christianity and Islam in the Philippines. The precolonial dance form, therefore, is also a key to the ancient Filipino identity that has been eroded over three hundred years of colonial rule and Western acculturation.
ADC seeks to preserve tradition by elevating pangalay into a classical dance style through performances, research, and education-training. The dance’s abundant movement vocabulary, researched by Amilbangsa since 1969, is codified through the Amilbangsa Instruction Method (AIM). The method is based on breathing and the meditative character of the dance is inspired by the movement of the waves and creatures in the natural environment.
Learning from Dancing
ADC members are united in their passion to dance pangalay and the mission to safeguard cultural heritage. First, members must strive to understand the dance form and its indigenous roots. Second, all members—whether under six or over sixty years old—must persevere to become good pangalay dancers.
Each needs to discover personal identity in the dance, yet be able to perform in sync with the group through breathing.
In exchange for such dedication, pangalay has given ADC members memorable experiences like performing before various audiences: child rights activists, human rights workers, urban poor citizens, college students, preschool children, public elementary pupils, UN delegates, diplomatic corps, hospital patients, stroke survivors, abused children, overseas migrant workers, mall shoppers, and many others. Performers have danced in a variety of spaces: art galleries, museums, gymnasiums, stadiums, auditoriums, parking lots, malls, gardens, streets, quadrangles, city halls, village squares, in front of the church altar, conference rooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, and classrooms.
As well as the diverse audiences and locations, ADC have been danced to all kinds of music including folk songs, pop music, rock, hip-hop, classical, and jazz, all without losing the traditional character of the dance. The dances have been accompanied with live music by traditional kulintangan ensembles, full orchestras, chamber groups, folk singers, opera artists, and choirs. This demonstrates the dancers’ adaptability, dancing as they do to the rhythm of breathing.
ADC have taken pangalay to international audiences too. In Taipei in 2006, they were representatives in the fourth Asian Performing Arts Festival. In 2007 they mounted a series of performances in Paris for the sixtieth anniversary of Franco-Philippine relations. They visited Hanoi in 2009 to perform on the occasion of the 111th anniversary of Philippine independence. The Asian tour of the concert Water Symphony took them to India, Myanmar, Lao, and Cambodia, and they also performed at an international dance festival in Hong Kong in 2017.
Learning from Teaching
The AIM has enabled even those without dance backgrounds to perform pangalay. ADC’s special interest is in promoting the dance form particularly among youth, older people, women, and other grassroot sectors. In 2008, for example, villagers from Punta Cruz in Maribojoc, Bohol, participated in a dance workshop culminating in a community historical dance drama. Marginalized groups that have received pangalay training include child advocates fighting the commercial sexual exploitation of children in 2000; children and older people who had suffered neglect, abuse, exploitation, and/or abandonment at the Manila Boys’ Town Complex in 2012 and 2014; and the out-of-school children of Tondo, Manila, in 2017–18.
ADC teachers also held workshops among primary school children in Marikina City in 2003 and between 2015 and 2019.
Workshops for the academic community were also held at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the De La Salle University Manila, both in 2019.
Learning from the Pandemic
Pangalay lessons moved online starting April 2020. The remote sessions emphasize the importance of pangalay meditative breathing to strengthen the immune system. ADC also coproduced a dance video on safety protocols for an ASEAN information campaign in August 2020. Restrictions related to COVID-19 challenged ADC to conduct virtual concerts, which started with the premiere in December 2020 of Pangalawang Yugto: Konsiyerto ng Pangalay, Tula, Salinawit, at Musika (Chapter Two: Concert of Pangalay, Poetry, Adapted Songs, and Music), which was aimed at high-school and college students who had to continue
their education remotely.
Online platforms broke territorial barriers, enabling ADC to engage with pangalay enthusiasts, students, and dancers from all over the Philippines and further afield. Hard times also bring opportunities. Faced with an uncertain future when extraordinary challenges are inevitable, ADC will strive to keep pangalay and related artistic expressions alive.
For more information, please visit the official website of the AlunAlun Dance Circle: www.pangalaydance.com.