Buhay Makulay 003: Season Ender

And just like that, it’s over.

For many days over the past few weeks, I would fall asleep or wake up with the Buhay Makulay song playing in my head. I would think of our children and the joy in their faces as they sang. I would look ahead toward the big surprise we had for them – our special culminating activity! But the day before yesterday, I woke up with children and the song in my mind, this time harmonized with sadness. The Buhay Makulay’s first Likha season had come to an end.

On Saturday, December 7th, Buhay Makulay had it’s first Likha Showcase! The showcase was a celebration of children and the arts! The showcase consisted of an art exhibit and a short program, all featuring the work of the 31 children we had been blessed to work with throughout this season. It was a private event, really more for the children than for anyone else. Each child invited one guest from their family, while we invited a few of Buhay Makulay’s and Precious Jewels Ministry’s closest friends and supporters. We gathered to honor the children and praise God!

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The invite I designed, featuring the beautiful and colorful paper collage made by the children who focused on visual art for majority of our program.

This was the most ambitious program I’ve launched for Buhay Makulay so far. In my mind and heart it has been years in the making. The vision for the showcase I have held so long, I cannot believe it has already come true, almost exactly how I had pictured it! This was the first art exhibit I’ve ever really curated and installed, and I certainly hope it is only the first of many. It was small in scale, but gigantic in story.

The activity was not just an event, but part of a larger narrative. Though us volunteers and partner staff could see the growth in the children during our time together, we were not sure that the children could yet grasp the weight of their discoveries and accomplishments. The activity was meant to help see how far they had come!

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This was a special day for them. These children live in cramped quarters, some under a bridge and some in relocated communities, all from the poor corners of the city. They do not have room in their homes to dance, or large spaces on their walls on which their artwork can be displayed and appreciated.

This was a special day for them. All the fun and learning they had with us could finally be shared with the people that raise and care for them on a daily basis. Most brought their mothers, others their fathers, and a few their older sisters or brothers. We were sharing with family. We were making known to them their own incredible value that so often gets lost behind poverty line.

This was a special day for them. The kids walked around the exhibit, pointing out to their mothers which drawings or crafts they had made. Mothers watched on bright-eyed, as their kids danced onstage. Little kids came up to our volunteers, with a wealth of smiles that many weeks ago were so hard to wedge out of them. And I watched, in disbelief and wonder, at the sweet celebration taking place around me. As we knew from the beginning, all our hard work is worth it.

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The banner of Team Hope (ages 8-10) -a collage made entirely out of recycled paper, fabric and dyed eggshells. Our children learned that beauty can be made of the scraps. God makes beautiful things out of us, out of dust.This was made on our third workshop day, before our children chose to focus on visual or movement arts.

I’m not huge on television series’, but thanks to online streaming I have become dedicated to a few.  I can get through a whole season of a show with much excitement, watching episode right after episode. But I have a tendency to hold off watching the season enders. Nearing a season’s conclusion, I slow down. Sometimes I put it off for longer, until the following season already starts so I won’t have to wait in agony between stories. (At this moment, I have yet to watch three season enders of three different shows whose seasons ended months ago!)

I’d rather wait in willing suspense, than just have things be plain over.

Perhaps this is the feeling that I woke up with the other day – wishing we were still looking ahead to the big surprise for the kids, rather than knowing that the celebrations had been celebrated.

In the weeks to follow, I hope to continue to process the experience and share incredible stories of learning and blessing. Thankfully, there is much to share!

 

Buhay Makulay: From Single Session to Season of Service

For the seventh year in a row, we celebrated our love for children with Buhay Makulay’s annual Children’s Fair. The  festivities were held two Saturdays back. This tradition began years ago, and ignited for me a deeper, lifelong commitment to community service in my home country. This coming Saturday, Buhay Makulay will be opening it’s first season of workshops ever, a dream I have held in my heart since the early days of Buhay Makulay.  This is the same dream that brought me back here to Manila. I am beyond excited!

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Getting ready to welcome the kids! June 22, 2013.

This present phase is very special for our organization. We are crossing over from single events to a more sustained presence in the life of the kids we reach out to. In the past, due to the restrictions of distance (I lived overseas!) or manpower, the work has been limited to stand-alone events – a morning fair, an afternoon workshop, or an evening performance concert (all valuable contributions to the existing work of our partner organizations, but never enough!). And although we have grown alongside some of our kids through the years, we still yearn for more. The time is ripe for bigger movement and deeper involvement. We want to form relationships, opening up real opportunities to mentor kids, and not just see them once a year. That’s where all of this was always headed!

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So here comes our first season ever! It’s called Likha. In english that means “to create.”  Our inspiration is taken from Isaiah 64:8 “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. “

Likha will give children the space to express themselves through visual and performance art. More than teaching about the arts, we will nurture a healthy community of children where each child feels loved and cared for. Our children represent the country’s poorest communities, families living with terminal illnesses like HIV/AIDS, or households torn down by abuse or abandonment.

We have been working on this for a long time and I cannot wait to see how the children respond to our pilot program. For the past few months, I have been meeting with my team of volunteers and our partners at the Precious Jewels Ministry. Slowly we’ve been pulling together ideas but more importantly, we’ve been knitting our hearts together as a team of volunteers, ready to serve and pour out love on these kids.

Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!
Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!

Looking forward to seeing the children this Saturday. We’ll be meeting twice a month all the way until December! We’re no strangers to the kids, but I am looking forward to being called their friend.

(On a fundraising note, we are still in need of sponsors for Likha. If you are interested to donate in cash or in kind, your gifts will go a long way. Please get in touch with me, or email buhaymakulaymanila@gmail.com for more info. To sponsor one child for the full program costs only P10,000 or $240. For a single session P1,000 or $24. ) 

Truth Thursdays: I am Here

This month I’ve been teaching a beginner’s dance class on Tuesday nights. Towards the end of class, I teach a phrase of choreography. The movement begins with a closed stance, head down, hands hanging by your sides, feet together and bent. Then, with a quick roll of shoulders, one at a time, sharply the phrase begins. Hitting the second before the count, “And one!” In the same breath, but still separate, a flick of the head upward to the audience follows.

Then a slow expansion of the body takes place. As slow as two full counts can allow. The arms slide up to be raised at their widest, the head dramatically turns to the right, exposing the neck and jaw, and the right leg sweeps to open underneath. These last three movements, in that slow expansion, create a moment.

What follows this moment, are a tumble of many other moments, and you’re thrown into the dance. If you’re not mindful of your breath, you’ll find yourself winded in the process.

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To my students, I emphasized the importance of the first movement. You may just be rolling your shoulders back, but you’ve got to make an impact even with this exaggerated shrug. Don’t make it look like a mistake. You’re not responding to a fly buzzing in your shoulder, you are announcing your arrival, the beginning of something. It isn’t a question. You are inviting your audience to pay attention. Demanding they be held captive.

And that slow expansion that I spoke of? Those two full counts that describe your presence on stage, that is you saying, “I am here. I have arrived.”

Take your time, I tell them, enjoy it. Don’t be worried about the quick shuffle of steps that follow, how quickly the music is pushing you to move, or how nervous you are to be trying something new. Fulfill the movement. Show the audience who you are, and in that moment, simply fill the room. That is the movement’s purpose.

At the end of next month, it will be a year since I moved back to the Philippines. Although it has been many months, the move back is still on my mind. And I am often reminded that I was not always around here – through conversations with friends, the many inquiries about whether I am here to stay, the memories with friends from miles away that still fill my mind. I am reminded too that although a new departure is not in line of sight, it is never simply out of the question.

I wonder, in what part of my choreographic phrase of transition do I find myself today? For much time, I may have stood in the beginning stance, closed and cautious, although already breathing to the beat of the music. My very blood pulsing to a new song.

Later, I began to really move. I began to remember my need to make an impact, no matter how slight.

Today, I am certain that I have arrived. This is not a mistake. It is not a question. Pay attention.

And there is no lack of movement, no blank stares. I am juggling a number of jobs, managing a handful of community service initiatives, as well as caring for a few personal dreams that I have planted. I’ve been growing into community. I’ve been taking on challenges. I’ve been trying new things. I am here.

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The movement of the slow expansion is still my favorite. In my improvisational movement of living, I punctuate my sprightly dancing with moments such as those. Making a simple moment matter, making it everything that matters for a breath. Or two. Doing it with integrity. Filling the space. And I too, being filled.

I am taking my time. I am fulfilling my movement.

I’ve thrown myself into the dance. How can I not?

I am here.

 

(Images in these post are photographs from a piece I choreographed in the fall of 2011, for the Wheaton College Dance Company. I can’t recall its title at the moment, but it was a piece centered around a lightbulb, and more personally spoke towards my process and decision to move home to the Philippines in the following year. In this moment, this is where the light leads. I am here.)

 

To find out more about Truth Thursdays, click here.

For more on this specific prompt, click here.

Dance Films that Move Me

Words cannot explain how entranced I have been the past few days with Iron and Wine’s music video for Boy With a Coin.

The first time I looked up the song on YouTube, I didn’t even bother watching the video and just listened to the song as I worked on a separate tab on my browser. A few plays later, after falling in love with the music, I finally decided to watch the video, made curious by the sound of people ascending stairs at the beginning of the song.

As a dancer, I gravitate towards music videos heavy with dance. This video captivated me so. It even got me dancing around my dining room late into the night.

Boy With a Coin. By Iron and Wine.

Elegance and intensity. But elegance made richer by authenticity. And intensity made powerful by subtlety. I may have watched this video ten million times in the past two days.

 

While I’m at it, off the top of my head, here are a few of my all time favorite dance-inspired videos/short films. In order of appearance in my life.

I hope one day to direct one of my own.

 

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room. John Mayer. Choreographed by Wade Robson.

So raw. So beautiful. Thank you Wade Robson for choreographing this. I love the simplicity and honesty of the filming and dancing.

Ariel. By Stateless.

This video will always remind me of the summer I spent in DC, when I first found the video. I played it loudly in my room when my roommate were gone. Over and over again. It may be the least dance-intense videos on my list, but sometimes when I dance, the imagery and electricity captured in this video is what inspires me when I move. I want people to see that when I dance, but without the need for special effects.

Thought of You. By the Weepies. Animation by Ryan Woodward. 

Right here, ladies and gentlemen, is the marriage of two things I love – dance and animation. The animation has so effortlessly and precisely communicated emotion through movement. Even more than that, it’s just such great storytelling.

Valtari. By Sigur Ros. From the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment.

Not only was this my favorite song from their recent album, but when I first saw this film I was left speechless. Time to watch it, people!

 

 

Resurfacing T

I think you may have guessed from the silence emanating from my blog, that either (1) life has been very busy and exciting for me or (2) life has been desperately boring, locking me up in a state too horribly embarrassing to even write about, that my shame has caused me to hide out in internet anonymity until further notice, or at least until something remotely entertaining in my life arrives to push me out of the depths of dilly dallying doom that suffocates me like a tie tied too tight.

Well…you will be glad to know that it is the former. This year could not have gotten off to a better start. And all of it in unplanned ways. Ah, it’s always in unplanned ways! I can’t even begin to share about how my life’s plot continues to thicken (in promising, not questionable ways), but I will write a bit about a few things I have learned about myself in these first weeks of the year:

1. Entrepre-WHAT?!

Yes, it seems I have been making the crossover. Well, maybe less of a crossover into someone different and more of an expanding of self. It’s been some months in the discovery, and more than a handful of people have given me similar feedback,… but I am finally coming to terms with this: that I may have more than just two and a half threads of business-minded muscle in this dancer’s body, woven in bright stitches in all my artsy-fartsyness! It was a speaking engagement with a partner foundation just two weeks ago that really opened my eyes to how I was breaking out into a new discipline. (More on that in future writing!)

We shall see where this goes! But for now, I am beyond excited to be able to make this discovery as the company I represent helps build livelihood programs for Filipinos with very limited professional prospects at the moment. It is an amazing feeling to be able to help provide jobs for people that so desperately need it, when I myself have just recently began my life in the “professional” world.

2. I’m a dancer, and there’s just no way to shake it out of my body. Or out of my soul for that matter.

In the latter half of 2012, after moving back to the Philippines I hadn’t been training or taking many dance classes. After having a very dance-intensive life in college, this was a bit of a letdown – for body, mind and heart. I appeased myself by teaching Zumba classes, running (not a favorite past time, but it will do, if only to push my body toward some sort of limit), and dancing alone in my little home studio. Right before the close of 2012, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I discovered a place to dance, take classes, and push my body toward a whole new limit. It came at just the right time! This year my opportunities in that place have grown even more.

Not only that, but in just the second day of this year, I was reunited with two good friends who took me to a freestyle dance workshop on a whim. No doubt, I felt a little out of my element, but it was the needed push to open my year up to dancing again.I was challenged, inspired and more importantly, reconnected with a community of dancers.

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Reunited on stage after eight years!

Just a few weeks ago, I got another random call from one of those friends on a Thursday– telling me, not asking me, about our plans for performing over that weekend. Together we did the doxology for a college dance concert, barely practicing before the show! They needed someone who was comfortable with improvising, and there we were, freestyling a somewhat structured prayer, through dance.

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Then again, randomly, last Monday, I got a text from the other of the two friends asking for a favor, that I might dance with him at church on Sunday. It seems I rarely turn down an opportunity to perform because I said yes, even when he told me we’d have to dance seven times throughout the day. The creative process leading up to Sunday consisted of just two practices, but we were certainly amazed at how God used even those short moments together to help us choreograph a story of love between two characters. I got proposed to seven times in one day! (That Sunday’s theme was “Marry Me!”)

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We survived sixteen hours, seven services and proposals! I wouldn’t mind not hearing Train’s “Marry Me” for another sixteen months…

3. The calendar fills up without even trying.

Barely a few weeks into the year, 2013 was already shaping itself up. Dates were getting blocked out for events, like weddings or trips. We were setting quarterly targets at work. With my Buhay Makulay team we were setting program dates and casting visions. So on and so forth. But the spaces underneath dates are now tied down in scribbles. First in vague ideas, but more and more concrete as the weeks go by.

I’ve noticed how nice it is to be able to think of a year in calendar quarters, rather than school semesters. My calendar no longer revolves around an academic schedule (with the sad loss of casualties like summer break and winter break), but I can now look at a year in full and wide perspective, not broken up and spilling into another year. I like this view a lot better. It makes more sense to me, a steady ebb and flow of months and seasons. Although I panicked a little when I realized how far ahead things could be arranged! I already have an idea of what my December looks like, even from this end of the calendar year.

Now wasn’t that a mouthful of a post?! Bottom line? 2013, what an adventure it will be to slowly unwrap you!  I just hope I find time to write about it.

Speak soon,

T.