Last dance for Portia
ESSENCE - Ligaya Rabago-Visaya (The Freeman) - January 3, 2016 - 9:00am

I offered a last dance to a woman with a big heart and has a great cause for women and children. It was a night of giving tribute to a vanguard of women empowerment. Last December 30, 2015 was the night of Parangal for Portia from the different women and children's groups, UP Cebu Retirees, UP Cebu community, and friends.

There was hesitance at first when Dr. Rhodora Bucoy, another backbone of women empowerment, asked me to do a dance ritual. That was the day that I had a scheduled shooting for a Sinulog Short Film Festival entry. But I was stunned by what Dr. Bucoy said, "Wala baya sad na giplano ang pagkamatay niya, Ying". But the hesitance came into realizing that I would be rendering a final dance to a dear friend. Still, I did.

Ritual dances are performed for a higher being with the hopes of success in community endeavors such as harvest and war, or just other key milestones in a social group or one's life. Take for instance in a war dance, originally, ritual war dances were performed by tribes preparing to go into battle. The dances energized the actual combatants for their task ahead and rallied support from the onlookers.

Dr. Leny Strobel of the Babaylan Studies Center, professor and chair of American Multicultural Studies Department of the Sonoma State University, points out that the Babaylans in Filipino indigenous tradition are women who are gifted to heal the spirit and the body. They are folk therapists, wisdom-keepers, and philosophers. They provide stability to the community's social structure. They can access the spirit realm and other states of consciousness. They perform rituals.  

And just like other rituals, what I did comes with an important purpose. There were three things that I used during my ritual. One, the palm leaves, commonly used to evoke the presence of the spirits who would be part of the entire ritual. In rituals, it is believed that there are those presences that are not physically seen and felt by mortals but when asked to take part of the ceremony, they are more than willing to participate. Equally important in doing so, is the second thing that I used-the incense. Just using the commonly used Chinese Josh sticks, I let those sticks smoke as a way of cleansing and purifying those who are present and acknowledge "the others'" presence and invite them for an important gathering. The third one which touched me most were the flowers. I gave the flowers to those present and asked them to offer these to Portia as a gesture of gratefulness and love. Flowers symbolize good memories we shared with friends. The beauty and purity of one's intention can be well-represented by the naturalness and vibrancy of the flowers. 

The entire ritual, for sure, Portia was amazed and happy as that was the same ritual that I had been performing every time we had events for women and children. Every time I would be asked to perform before a group of women, I love doing it. This is the part that when Portia was still alive would love me to do for the women. And in fact in two instances, she did perform with me years back in huge assemblies of women at the Plaza Independencia and at UP Cebu Conference Hall. Just last year, she introduced me to a group of women client survivors to conduct theater workshops. Our link became so strong that these women were able to perform, shared their stories and in the process became empowered.

Just like me, Portia believed in the power of performance especially for women who are undergoing healing from their harrowing experiences. More than words, dance portrays strong emotions of hope, love, and grief. Indeed, a grief for the passing of a lady whose life has been dedicated for an important cause.

I met the New Year with so much enthusiasm that Portia's legacy will continue. Before she left, these women were already empowered. They themselves, in turn, are now empowered to help other women.

Ms. Po, you had my dance and I thought that was my last for you. I will still dance for you because your sisters and relatives requested me to perform the same dance ritual so your sisters from the U.S. can also witness on the last tribute on January 2.

Without reservations, I'll do it for you and continue for the women whose lives you have touched so deeply. Rest in peace, my dear friend. Until we meet again, and dance together, forever.



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