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Safeguarding ‘pangalay’

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Author Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa dancing the Tausug pangalay. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ROEL HOANG MANIPON

Pangalay, the pre-Islamic dance of the Sulu archipelago, is the Philippine link to the classical dances of Asia such as those in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia, notes scholar Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa in her new book about the dance she describes as having the richest movement vocabulary in the country.

Having published a landmark book on pangalay in 1983, Amilbangsa has launched another one focusing on a teaching system she made through years of observation, study and practice.

Titled Pangalay Dance: The Amilbangsa Teaching Method (AIM), the book is divided into five parts starting off with the definition, importance and the need for the transmission of the dance form, to the instruction methods, costumes, traditional and innovative forms, and the musical accompaniment for the dance which is also called as igal among the Sama ethnic groups and pansak for the Yakan. All terms literally just mean “dance” in these languages.

Amilbangsa, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, said the book “provides a concise comprehensive, and flexible teaching method that hopes to facilitate the preservation and propagation of a cultural legacy that can serve to unify us as a nation.”

She said it is important to learn pangalay because of the improper changes made to the dance form today such as the accompaniment of fast music and different dance patterns which do not stick to tradition.

In the book, Amilbangsa presents the dance’s basic gestures and postures such as the beginning gesture called sinalayan, pata’ut-ta’ut or the wave-like movement of the arms, and kulluk palawa or the inward hand rotation that ends with the upward direction of the pointed fingers.

She likewise discusses gesture and footwork combinations, the exercises, and basic movements such as gliding, turns and pointing, and contemporary innovation such as the use of fans, puppets, mats and even newspapers.

The book is illustrated to help readers, teachers and students visualize the various postures and movements of a complex dance, an invaluable intangible heritage not only of the Sulu archipelago but of the country as well.

It is an enduring and living heritage and as Amilbangsa said, “its pervasiveness over a wide area of our country affirms our cultural identity; and its high aedsthetic qualities nourish our Filipino soul.”

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