2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awards: Pinay propagates Mindanao cultural heritage through dance
Cheeko Ruiz (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa has always loved the arts. When she married a schoolmate and moved to his home in Sulu, it was not surprising that she immersed herself in the rich cultural life of Muslims in the south.

She turned her love for the arts into a vocation as a cultural researcher, educator, artist and advocate of indigenous arts in Mindanao.

Her signature involvement was the study, conservation, practice and promotion of the dance style called pangalay (a gift offering or temple dance in Sanskrit), a pre-Islamic dance tradition among the Samal, Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug peoples of the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Pangalay has the richest movement vocabulary of all ethnic dances in the Philippines and is the country’s living link to the ancient, classical dance traditions elsewhere in Asia.

It is traditionally performed in weddings and other festive events.

Amilbangsa, sister of former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman and vice presidential candidate Bayani Fernando, sees the pangalay as distinctly Asian, resembling Indian, Javanese, Thai, Burmese and Cambodian styles.

She said she is fascinated by pangalay’s beauty and recognizes its importance in the cultural heritage of Sulu and the Philippines in general.

Amilbangsa added that she was saddened to see that pangalay was becoming a marginalized tradition, thus committing her life to patiently documenting the dance and its allied expressions; teaching the dance using a method she personally developed; and promoting it by choreographing and organizing performances as well as through lectures and articles.

On her own and using her personal resources, Amilbangsa inspired the formation of arts groups, networked with dance scholars and practitioners in Asia and presented both traditional and innovative pangalay in and outside the country.

When she moved back to Metro Manila in 1999, she formed the AlunAlun Dance Circle to study, teach and perform pangalay and other traditional dance forms. She also lent her home for a dance studio.

The group has since done hundreds of performances and workshops throughout the country.

For her single-minded crusade in preserving the artistic heritage of Mindanao and for propagating a dance form that celebrates the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians, Amilbangsa has been chosen as one of this year’s recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

“Traditional dances like pangalay are not museum pieces but something to be nurtured as a living tradition that grows as societies change,” Amilbangsa said.

She stressed that art must stay rooted in the basic values that humanize – beauty, grace, a disciplined spirituality and harmony with nature and fellow humans.

“Without looking to the past, something new cannot be created,” she said, vowing to dance her way through the preservation of Philippine culture.

ACIRC AMILBANGSA BAYANI FERNANDO BURMESE AND CAMBODIAN DANCE DANCE CIRCLE JAMA MAPUN AND TAUSUG LIGAYA FERNANDO-AMILBANGSA METRO MANILA METROPOLITAN MANILA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY PANGALAY
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