Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tacloban dancers' message of hope and thanks


This is my column today, March 4, 2014.
It’s always great to hear bits and pieces of good news emanating from my hometown, Tacloban City, after hearing nothing but heartbreaking news for months since the supertyphoon struck last November.
We all knew in our hearts that Tacloban would rise again, and not just because Taclobanons are resilient people, but because there are many people all over the world who are reaching out and doing all they can to help.  I know this has been said many times and in various ways, but I will say it again:  Thank you, thank you to everyone all over the world who joined the massive outpouring of help for Yolanda victims.
Tacloban City, and the other towns in Leyte and Samar, however, continue to need all the help they can get.  Although conditions are getting better every week, the painful process of rehabilitation and rebuilding continues. In a few weeks it will be graduation season and I can only imagine the pain that many will feel when they note the significant reduction in the number of graduates in many schools. Yes, many of those we lost in the raging waters caused by the storm surge were children.
But as they say, life goes on.  And many kids in Tacloban are trying to get on with their lives and their pursuit of a better future. 
I heard last week that one of Leyte’s top dance companies, the Leyte Dance Theatre, was not only back on its feet but preparing for its nth series of shows in the United States.  This is a bit of great news because LDT’s dance studio was among those badly destroyed by the supertyphoon.  In addition, the group’s dancers were all affected - many of them lost family members, their homes, and important belongings.  Rehearsals and going on a performance tour would probably be the last thing in their minds after what happened.  I know this because I know quite a number of them.  I have been supporting the group in whatever way I can because the members are mostly students from average-income families and the group does a great job of preserving and celebrating Waray culture through dance. 
But then again, dancing and performing can also be great therapy.  And the staggering force behind LDT, danseur and choreographer par excellence Jess de Paz (who also happened to be my sociology professor in college) knows this too well, after having mentored numerous dancers through many years and after kindling and nurturing the growth of LDT through many ups and downs and all kinds of struggles and difficulties in the last 20 years.  Ensuring the continued survival and growth of a dance company in one of the least developed regions in the country is a herculean task and de Paz is still at it despite having reached retirement age because he looks at it as a mission.
I have written about this many times in this space (and in my Sunday column in this paper): The arts is not usually given the attention it rightfully deserves in this country for many reasons.  We’re a developing country and many among our leaders think that the arts is something we can do without (has President Benigno S. Aquino ever sat through a play or a performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines or elsewhere?).  But we cannot do without the arts because without it, we would not have a soul as a people and as a country. And probably because we’re innately talented as a people, most of us seem to think that our gifts do not need to be nurtured or celebrated or supported.  Heck, there remains tens of thousands of talented Filipinos waiting to be discovered on Youtube. 
But there are groups like LDT and people like de Paz who soldier on despite overwhelming odds.  Thankfully, there are people all over the world who allow them to do what they do because they do it so well. And so, from April until June this year, LDT will go around the United States to perform for various groups in a series of fund-raising shows intended to help Yolanda’s victims in Leyte.  This is the sixth time since 1997 that LDT will be performing around the USA.  This time around, LDT will be performing around California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York. 
I hope the new members of LDT will be granted visas by the US embassy so they can continue bringing a glimpse of Filipino culture and sending our message of gratitude to everyone in the US who supported us through the worst natural disaster to hit our country.  We’re crossing our fingers that the US embassy in Manila would appreciate what LDT is trying to do and give the kids of LDT the opportunity to continue performing for a global audience and at the same time, allow them the much-needed chance to heal.

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