Saturday, November 03, 2007


My cousin who is in college wants to try out for the Pilipino Cultural Night Singkil Princess part. She was a fan woman last year and knows that to have what it takes to be princess, she was going to need help. She asked us if we knew anyone. Especially since the hubby had spent extensive years photographing numerous dance troupes, he knew quite a few people, so he emailed a friend from college we hadn't seen in years. Ten to be exact, since her oldest was now ten.

Sure enough, she emails right back saying that her cousin who dances with Kayamanan in LA was in town and they'd be happy enough to help my cousin with an audition routine.

It turned out to be a great day! Our friend and her cousin discussed the details of the dance, the body position, the footwork, the pose. And even though the angles seem like they would strain the body, they are indeed rather balanced.

Singkil, a Maranao dance, is, like many of the folk dances, a courtship dance, a series of flirtatious moves. The twirling of the fans to create illusions of the female form and to play tricks by hiding and uncovering. Though I have seen the dance performed with more overtly sexual outfits (a Western interpretation), when the movements are done just right, there is no need to exaggerate or excessively reveal too much. As J said, that's how she got her husband.

Our friend, J, hadn't danced in years and though she said she had forgotten, it was amazing how easily her body fit itself into the proper movement. Even without the spectacle of costume and lights, she was mesmerizing. I was happy to see our friend J reconnect to something that had been a large part of her life.

During the afternoon, we discussed the various Singkil performers we had seen over the years and what made those dances special. Certainly J's performance her freshman year at Cal was incredible. She knew how to hit the curves and the angles with her body and attitude. Another woman had incredibly flexible wrists, but what "sold" the dance with her eyes. I knew another woman who had the most captivating fingers.

But really the conversation we were really having were the aspects of a woman's beauty. Considering this dance comes from a predominantly Muslim region, that beauty is not overt or exposed, but rather revealed and enticed. The wave of the arms that lap you forward, the figure eight flow of the fans repeated over and over an unconscious signal of the curves of the body, the slight lean of the body that exudes confidence and self-awareness.

One of the tips that J's cousin gave mine was "you don't want to be bukaka to the audience" or you don't want to pick the stance that from the audience's view your legs are spread open. The dance is not only a courtship with the prince but to the audience as well. Put yourself out there, but don't give too much. Not everyone gets to see everything. To pull them in, you give enough to make them want to come to see the rest.

The attitude of the dance is probably the most difficult to get. It's not just turning up your nose or leaning back. It's about keeping your head high, and not standing at attention, but leaning back with ease. You are the princess, you are not the one to serve you are the one to lead. It's not what the fans do, the fans simply amplify what is already there, what is already within you. It's not so much about snootiness as it is about confidence and content. The prince is not getting just any girl, he's getting one of substance, he's getting a woman. She is not trying to be anyone, she already is.

It's a leap, to go beyond thought. To simply be. And it's in this "being" where the true beauty really is.

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