A Theology of Dance – Part 1 (really, how a clumsy introvert finds God on stage)

In addition to being a Catholic youth minister, another major aspect of my life right now is Kayamanan ng Lahi, “Treasures of our People,” an LA-based community folk arts organization committed to presenting, promoting and preserving the richness and diversity of Philippine culture through dance and music, to educate, entertain and enlighten:

(Video credit to UCLA PAA)

Now that we’ve just finished putting on a great show, Agos, for the Sounds of LA series at the Getty Center, I finally have the opportunity to sit back and reflect on where the past 10 years of Filipino folk dance, beginning at UCLA and continuing today through KnL, has lead me.

When one thinks about a “dancer,” one generally thinks of someone who is highly talented, self-confident, out-going and extroverted, loves the spotlight, creative, has a great sense of rhythm and music, graceful, poised, expressive, and is super-comfortable with his/her body and expressing various emotions and characters through movement.

Now if you take all those qualities, stuff them in a bag…then exchange that bag for a bag that holds the exact opposite of the first one, that’s a pretty good partial description of me: an introvert that would probably be much more comfortable in a monastery or chapel than on center stage, not very confident in myself, not particularly coordinated or graceful, and generally finds the experience of being on stage trying to share something of myself and my culture with an audience to be very paradoxically draining and energizing experience.

From a talent-centered view, the best I can say about myself is that I like to work hard at what I do despite having little natural talent at it. Also, I have been fortunate enough to have been well-trained over the years by immensely talented, wonderful, patient teachers, mentors, and partners who somehow (by the grace of God, seriously) manage to make me not look like the scrub that I am, and I submit this as empirical evidence of the existence of God šŸ˜› But overall, to call me a “dancer” in the usual sense of the word (I think) is to use the term in a very loose and generous manner.

So the questions here are, how does someone who seems (or at least feels) so ill-suited to the nature of the performing arts end up on the stage, not just once, but for 10 years? What motivates me to do the exact opposite of what my personality and natural inclinations would generally lead me to do? Why do I do this?

The answer is that for me, Kayamanan ng Lahi (and more generally FIlipino folk arts) is an encounter with the living God, which is pretty much the best reason, and in the final analysis, the only enduring reason, to do anything, no? The Jesuits have a simple motto that reflects their spirituality: finding God in all things; and I find God very clearly and easily in KnL and in Filipino folk dance. My experiences in Kayamanan have, as the old Baltimore catechism said, helped me to know, love, and serve God in this life so that I may (hopefully) be with Him forever in the next.

So how do I find God in KnL? Well, stay tuned for the next episode of “A Theology of Dance (really, how a clumsy introvert finds God on stage)” šŸ™‚

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