Dancing for Filipinos

In the Philippines, or maybe just here in Bacolod City, people enjoy celebrations.  Bacolod is called the City of Smiles and is known for its annual MassKara Festival held in October.  The tradition began in 1980, in response to a sugar crisis plaguing the island of Negros and a ferry-capsizing that killed over 700 Negrenses.  To pull the island out of a pervasive gloom, the government organized a weeklong festival in which the participants wear smiling masks.  The festival is a nice metaphor for the general outlook of the island and its people.

In a country that is 80% Catholic, at an organization that values family, community, and faith, celebrating the birth of Christ provides a great opportunity to let down your proverbial hair and celebrate.  A Filipino Christmas party is a highly choreographed spectacle of extravagance, filled with singing, dancing, and revelry.  Participation is required by all, including your humble correspondent.  Imagine bottling the spirit that drives some people to sing karaoke, and unleashing it on a Christmas party.

My colleagues in the MIS department practiced their dance moves every day for two hours after work for a week.  I had to listen to “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” (in Korean) for 8 hours a day, every day, for a week.  On Monday night, my Kiva colleague Ed and I went to dinner with the Kiva coordinator, Presy.  Before we left, she warned us to prepare a dance for the party.  I shrugged it off and disregarded the advice, confident in my ability to dodge that bullet.

The party was held on Friday night.  I was one of three honorary judges for the dance contest.  The party began with a prayer, followed by a series of six 10-minute performances.  Each department had 15-30 people, young and old, big and small, coordinated and uncoordinated, dancing and singing in carefully choreographed numbers.  They played to the crowd, which was enthusiastic and, more importantly, forgiving.  It was the anti- Showtime at the Apollo.  When it was over, the emcee announced that he and the rest of the organization would be expecting a performance from their American guests after dinner.

With less than 20 minutes to prepare, we decided to perform the only dance we knew – the Macarena.  We managed to scrape together a few backup dancers, a video of Filipino prisoners dancing on the big screen, and let it rip.  For your viewing pleasure, here it is:


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