A Dream Was Born
In 1984, Bert David and his wife Lina were blessed with their third child. Their life in Edmonton was as fruitful as ever. He had come to this country of plenty and traveled across Canada to follow his dream. His dream was realized with a stable career, a lovely wife by his side and three beautiful children. However, a bigger dream was yet to enthrall this former architect. As he reflected on his own struggles in settling in a foreign land, he thought about the journey of the many people from the Philippines who migrated to North America. Many of them have worked hard to achieve success but in the pursuit of the western lifestyle they have lost touch with their roots. He looked at his little daughter’s beautiful brown, Filipina eyes and saw the richness of his heritage in her. He knew what he had to do.
At the most pivotal moment of Ninoy Aquino’s fight for freedom, the Philippine Barangay Children’s Dance Troupe Society came into being, borne out of Bert David’s dream of sharing the rich Filipino heritage not only with first generation Filipino-Canadians but also with the Edmonton community which has openhandedly embraced people of varying cultures. It was not an easy task to make this dream a reality. Many people shared his vision but it took a charming and energetic natural born leader to finally set this dream on track.
The Dream Takes Off
Maria Jimenez Hicks was the first instructor and choreographer of the group. Her winsome smile and charismatic energy was perfect for the 6 little girls who were to precede a long line of talented and impressive performers for Barangay. Always cheerful, Nanette, as she is fondly called, struck a chord with the young girls who quickly picked up the Filipino and Hawaiian dances that she taught. They began performing in schools, cultural events and social gatherings. Despite the increasing demands on her time, Nanette’s dedication remained strong and unwavering. Many remember her lugging a baby carrier to Barangay practices and being available despite being under the weather. Her commitment was an inspiration to many and her pivotal role in the founding of Barangay is widely recognized.
Growing in Leaps and Bounds
In 1987, the group of 6 girls who attended the original Sunday afternoon dance lessons back in 1984 quickly grew to 30 boys and girls ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. Rachel Santiago, a professional dancer in the Philippines, joined Nanette in teaching and choreographing dances for Barangay. Honed by years of training and performing in the Philippines, Rachel introduced a wide range of dances that reflected the rich cultural diversity of the Philippines. She also introduced structure to Barangay, a development that the growing number of performers in Barangay needed. She implemented standards and protocols of performing that set the stage for the discipline in dance training that Barangay is now known for.
Carving A Name in the Cultural and Competitive Scene
In 1993, another key figure in Barangay’s history came on board. Bernadette Piojo joined Barangay initially to choreograph dances for the junior group but her dedication, creativity and leadership skills have led her role to evolve into more critical responsibilities, i.e. that of artistic director and president of the society. Her pursuit of quality performance and unparalleled artistry have catapulted Barangay to new heights. In 1997, she introduced Barangay to the competitive dance world. Barangay took its unique brand of performance at the Dance Power finals in Banff and struck gold. Since then, there was no looking back for this group of talented and dedicated performers as it established itself firmly as a force to contend with in the competitive arena. Under Bernadette’s guidance, Barangay’s pursuit of excellence continued, garnering the group a solid reputation in the cultural and competitive scene.
East Meets West
Emily Soriano joined the teaching team in 1995, fortifying the already talented pool of teachers and choreographers in Barangay. An experienced performer with the well-known Cultura Filipina in the Philippines, she brought to Barangay a true fusion of east and west, introducing modern elements into traditional folkloric dances. She choreographed an intricate, three-dimensional version of “Tinikling” with moving bamboo poles and dancers in a breath-taking display of skill, agility, and grace. She had the ability to take traditional folk dances like “Igorot” and “Singkil” and infuse it with exciting and challenging dance moves. With her dedication, creativity and discipline, she elevated Barangay’s quality of performance and gave the group a unique place in the performance arena.
Barangay on the World Stage
In the late 2000s, Barangay has become a formidable force in the local and regional competitive stage. Barangay has carved its name in local competitive circles after winning awards and championships one after another. Convinced that Barangay can shine even more in the world stage, Mary Ann (Ecel) Sosa, then artistic program director, began exploring the possibility of Barangay competing in international competitions. In 2010, this hard work paid off with the key contributions of parent-choreographer Yeyet Roque, and performer-choreographers Angel David, Che-Chi Hicks and Julian Jamilano. At the 2010 Dance World Cup competitions in Sardinia, Italy, Barangay competed against 47 countries from all over the world, and won the national competitions with a gold for “Tinikling”, a silver for “Singkil” and a bronze for hip-hop with their B-Trix Prodigy performance. Today, Barangay continues to excel in the competitive stage, both locally, regionally and internationally.
The Dedicated Mothers
Barangay’s success is not possible without the support of all the parents who drove their children to practices and performances, rain or shine, snow or sleet. However, special mention is due to a number of dedicated mothers, who with their support of the teaching team, brought to fruition the dream that Bert David had 30 years ago. Linda Monera joined Barangay in 1991 and seeing the need for help in the choreography team, instantly made herself available as teacher to the young dancers of Barangay. Linda’s dedication and resourcefulness enabled Nanette to focus on the creative side of her role as head choreographer of the group. At about the same time, Cres Estioko joined the teaching team and offered her time and effort in helping teach the new dances to the growing number of performers. A former public school teacher, she shared her skills and patience to impart the dance repertoire to the young performers. Following Bernadette Piojo’s footsteps, Yeyet Roque has taken on the role of Artistic Director for Barangay and continues to dedicate her time and talent to Barangay.
The Dream Comes Full Circle
The artistic and teaching team of Barangay now includes former dancers who are now sharing their skills and talent with the younger members of the group. Dianna David, Bert’s daughter and one of the original dancers of the children’s dance troupe became part of the teaching team in 1993. That same year, Cathy Yumang joined the team of choreographers. The succeeding years saw the trend continue. Precious Ambrosio and Zenavid Manuel joined the teaching team in 1999, lending support in teaching and choreographing folkloric dances. In 2000, Angel David and Allan Cruz joined the teaching team, introducing hip-hop in the dance curriculum. Their creativity, hard work and dedication had brought Barangay awards and accolades in hip-hop dance competitions. In 2001, Jodee Aguillon and Precious Ambrosio joined the artistic team, bringing with them their unique style and talent in folkloric and hip-hop dances. In 2009, Che- Chi Hicks, Julian Jamilano, Jeremy Jamilano, and Andre Yap joined the artistic team and ably led Barangay to a successful 25th anniversary gala and the ground-breaking Dance World Cup championships in 2010. In 2012, Nicole Ambrosio and Michael Llauder assumed the leadership of the artistic team and continues to choreograph and teach the young dancers to continue the legacy Barangay. The 30th anniversary gala of Barangay in 2014 was a reminder of how dedicated parents and performers can work together to continue to inspire the youth and live the vision that Bert David had three decades ago.
The transition of Barangay’s performers into leadership roles is a fulfillment of the basic premise Barangay was founded upon. The children, who were the very purpose as to why Barangay was established in the first place, are now the new leaders of the organization. The current crop of teachers and choreographers bring with them the excitement, the spirit, and essence of first generation Filipino-Canadians in Edmonton.
A Dream Fulfilled, A Bright Future Secure
The Barangay of yesteryears, with only 6 young dancers, has now grown to 55 performers with ages ranging from 4 to 25. In 1997, with its varied repertoire and growing maturity as a performing group, its name and identity was appropriately changed to Philippine Barangay Performing Arts Society. It has made its mark in the cultural and competitive fields and continues to share its unique brand of performance with the Edmonton community. Bert David, nicknamed “Mr. Barangay”, continues to be present at Barangay practices. As he sees the little ones run around during practice breaks, his heart is filled with overwhelming joy as his dream of 30 years ago is fulfilled before his eyes. He knows Barangay’s future is secure.