Closed Her

So, baby, pull me closer in the back seat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford; bite that tattoo on your shoulder.
Pull the sheets right off the corner of that mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder. We ain’t never getting older.

Three weeks have I burst saliva balloons for counting, “and 5, 6, 7, 8…” Three weeks have I turned ten pairs of arms into twenty slimy tentacles. Three weeks have I stretched ten restrained bodies into living rubber bands. Yet, in three weeks, I have seen the Philippines’ next dance crew.

I was assigned to the Good Shepherd Sisters (GSS) of the St. Mary Euphrasia Foundation for the Junior Engagement Program (JEEP) of the Ateneo, doing community service for twelve long hours in total. That is like sitting on a chair and waiting to be called (if any help is needed) for half a day. Even my block mate argued, “Imagine what we could do with twelve hours: studying differential equations, Dota, prepping for orals, Dota, hitting the gym, Dota, Dota… Dota!”

Unfortunately, I had a hunch that my JEEP experience will be far worse than Dota-lessness. True enough, the Good Shepherd Sisters in Katipunan is a house for sexually abused women. The head sister disclosed to us the gruesome stories of the victims, which began with their visible cleavages in Instagram and relationships with emotionally disturbed men. The task was to keep the house a home for the children. That means to mingle with them without triggering the latter’s past horrors–NO using of technology, NO sharing of contacts, NO asking of their stories, and NO noise inside the house. In other words, we make a home without talking to the kids.

On that note, the challenge had already begun since day 1 of my JEEP experience. Similar to any first days on the job, the awkward feelings were tingling especially during the welcoming. The social worker tapped on each resident’s shoulder to come over the living room and meet us. Their sullen faces, those what-am-I-doing-here scowls after doing the household chores, insinuated that the girls possibly just want to have fun (pun intended). Thus, our Monday Morning Live was rolling brought to us by the Atenean Mondays, a group of three students for others: talk shows (e.g. introductions), teleseryes (e.g. improv using the English language), and game shows (e.g. Pinoy Henyo). The children blasted their nitrous oxide; their guffaws were music to our ears.

Unfortunately, the entertainment department was shut down due to exhaustion. Hence, we transferred the spotlight to the girls, “Who knows how to dance?” Automatically, the young ones at the front raised their index fingers to the two eldest of the bunch, the best dancers in the household. Others even boasted that the duo’s performances are worth a standing ovation. Due to public demand, the two got out of their potato couches and dashed to the hallway for the cassette. Surprisingly, when the music was played, not only did the two girls pummel the dance floor but also did the whole ten perform as a unit. In fact, their talents were beyond the heavens that every song had its own choreography–kick-ball changes, the pineapple pen, and the jump rope. Combining these moves formed another routine to the same rhythm as Chainsmokers’ Closer. Then, a light bulb tinged over our heads. At the end of day 1, the ten girls performed our on-the-spot choreography with their first head and neck isolations and urban footwork. The trend continued in day 2, with the girls’ first arm wave to the chorus of the song:

So baby pull me closer in the back seat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford; bite that tattoo on that shoulder.
Pull the sheets right off the corner of that mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder. We ain’t never getting older.

My interpretative dance aimed to bring life the meaning of every word of this section. The execution of the steps was an homage to the girls’ new born self and death to their crucial pasts:

The past life of a woman was the desperation for the love of her significant other. Realizing that, she grabbed a hold of her past heart and threw it behind, “moving on” by driving forward. However, haunted memories can influence her to take a U-turn back to her man. Thus, she stood on her ground and said, “No”. Everything about him–kiss, sex after ten shots of whiskey, and trips around Los Angeles–was a heap of trash she stepped on while walking forward. All of the past had been dropped. Then, she rose back on her feet, ready to love again.

Added with the isolations and the footsteps from the previous week, the girls had completed their first popping routine. After two weeks of adding steps, building formations, and polishing the performance, they became ready to love again. I and the team decided to have one last day for a dance festival in the Good Shepherd Sisters. Despite the already completed twelve-hour requirement, this final day became the last spare time we had with the ten superstars of dance. When everyone of the ten set their positions for Closer, each girl moved in unison at the start of the music as a combination of our choreography, their drama, and their energy. The spotlight originally on us on day 1 became theirs. My shoes were off for the Philippines’ next dance crew– the Angels Crew. Each one has closed her past self through the electrifying beat of Closer.

A week after the dance festival, I was in a Korean restaurant in the third floor of Regis in front of the Ateneo. I took a breather from all the sweat, heat, and body odor experienced during the three weeks of my JEEP experience. Ten sexually abused women–reserved, innocent, sheepish, and sedentary–became ten poppers and lockers who can swagger through the streets and dance like robots. In fact, from the surface level, no speck of dusts can hint a person of their wretched pasts, as if no abuse occurred in the first place. In the eyes of a dance instructor, the stage was all about the Angels’ Crew. The sharpness of movements, pizazz in the steps, and raving-party atmosphere are products of the creativity of each member in the group. As the music raided the place, the crew was able to dance their socks off without their two left feet and their coach at the front. For this reason, their 90 minutes on the platform was the time for the crew’s shining moment, where the group’s performance deserves standing ovations, cheers, and whistles.

Giving the crew the glory is inherent among instructors. Our job is to pass the baton of talents to our students so that the spotlight will be on them and not on me. That explains the highlighting of performances in shows such as America’s Best Dance Crew, America’s Next Top Model, and Miss Universe 2015. Those who advance in the competitions are Jabbawockeez, Tyra Banks, and Miss Philippines without their modelling coach, hip hop choreographers, and make-up artists. Hence, for teachers and trainers like me, the night is all about them.

Why them?

I asked. Every freestyle done in the past three weeks has led them to their glory on the last four hours of our JEEP. The formation of Angel’s Crew came natural for them as they gained the confidence to perform as a group in front of millions of eyes that will be entertained by the former. In them lies a reason for commanding the stage to be theirs.

If the song were other tracks than Closer (e.g. Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj’s Beauty and the Beat, Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, and Westlife’s My Love), the outcome of a standing ovation for the crew would remain unchanged. As previously mentioned, every song in their cassette has its unique routine. From the fast-paced 185-beats-per-minute (bpm) music to the mellow-dramatic 90-bpm track, the show will go on. Hence, regardless of the song choice, their creative combinations of steps from hip hop artists will remain a show stopper after consistent practices and maintenance trainings. The ten can groove through the music, nonetheless.

The same result would occur if the genre were contemporary or ballroom. My injection of a non-hip-hop routine through Zumba aimed to warm-up the girls for the possible difficult steps for Closer. One example is the hopping of one leg while kicking of the other one at the front, yielding a cross-like figure with the lower limbs. In the perspective of the crew, they were doing leg day, a lingo in the gym where people perform exercises for the lower limbs (e.g. squats, leg raises, and treadmills). Unconsciously, aside from doing legs without going to the gym, the ten has already executed the flick kicks of the high-energy jive, a style under Latin ballroom, which resembles the galloping dances of country folks and the jumpy movements of the French such as the Can Can. On this regard, any dance can be executable in the point of view of the Angels’ Crew.

Moreover, the setting of our practices has no bearing in the performance of the group. Despite our trainings to be inside the house or at the gardens nearby, the ten remain able to stretch their bodies, bend their backs, point their toes, and gasp for air. These are commonly done inside a dance studio where people are willing to pay an hourly rent to straighten their legs in ballet, form a square with their arms in tutting, and make a split in jazz with their coaches. As a result of their polished routine inside the house (outside of the usual venues for dance routines) on the last day, the where-to-perform has become irrelevant for the Angels’ Crew.

In my attempts,

I had failed to determine the unwavering answer to the question:

Why them?

In fact, that has been my query after consistently observing the absence of coaches in their students’ dance routines. After remixes, stunts, and shocking dance steps, the uproar goes the repetition of their names like that heard in basketball games and baseball matches: “Yankees! Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!” That was common as compared to “Pia Wurtzbach and Kuya Coach! Pia Wurtzbach and Kuya Coach! Pia Wurtzbach and Kuya Coach!” Not only the latter is a mouthful but also the show is about the person who stole the night.

Those thoughts have been running inside my head while I was eating my bibimbap in that Korean restaurant. I continued scratching my head to search the answer to my question until an imaginary hammer hit my brain. Dancers’ existence is dependent on an instructor’s expertise in the field. There will be no dancers if there are no coaches available for training. In fact, hip-hop came to this world through one’s accidental creations of movements in a bar, during classes, and at home. Hence, hip-hop dancers prevail because of an expert’s passing through teaching and coaching of steps and attitude. Similarly, I am a pundit of my brand of hip-hop. Therefore, extending my version yields students who are following my view of the dance. Thus, after three weeks of trainings, I am the reason for the formation of the Angels’ Crew.

Presenting to the ten the Scooby Doo, the Scoop Box, and the Robot suggests my teaching them on how I execute the steps. Without their choreographer, those moves remain concepts that will fly out of their windows the moment the spotlight is on them. When the ten practiced the choreography for Closer, they continually rehearsed my manner of performing the routine. That included my placement of the foot (whether on toes or on heel), consistency of the body with the beats and syncopation of the music, and angular precision of the steps (e.g. whether straight hands or bent legs). In fact, when I let the girls rehearse without me in front, I came over to each one and “sculpted” the vision of my art work from them–adjusting the position of their elbows when making a square with their arms, pushing their backs to show a form as curved as a banana, and straightening a leg when shifting weights from a lower limb to another. Such execution was necessary not only for the attractiveness of the performance but also for the message of their movements to come across. However, the interpretative dance routine of the Angels’ Crew was my understanding of Closer and their stories as sexually abused women. Added to these steps were my formations that gave every member an equal chance to have all eyes on each one. One of which was the W-formation, which utilizes sufficient space for the dance routine and the visibility of each member when performing the moves. This arrangement decreases the probability of members’ bumping into one another or stepping on other’s shoe laces. As a result, the whole performance of Angels’ Crew–dance steps, manner of execution, and formations–was the David to my Michaelangelo, the Mona Lisa to my Leonardo da Vinci, and the Starry Night to my Vincent Van Gogh. Similarly, the crew became an amalgamation of my choreography, my execution, my interpretation, and my formation. Ergo, the Angels’ Crew has become clones of myself as a dancer.

The similarities have grown uncanny. When Closer was played that afternoon, watching their performance was like looking at myself in the mirror. Without my presence in front, I saw me–the same execution of neck isolations, Scoop Box, arm wave, interpretative dance, and Wformation as I pictured for them. They had my signature peace sign in the air, hip hop fashion (e.g. baggy pants, cap with the bill at the back, Converse shoes), and beyond-the-heavens energy that reminded me of me. The likeness explains the audience impact of the girls’ dancing as if no rape, molestations, nor prostitution happened in the beginning. The Angels’ Crew performed not as sexually abused victims but as ten-tuplets of Zac who has no experience of such assaults. That analysis justifies that the whole three-week JEEP experience has turned into a process of the ten’s being born again, from their wretched pasts to their new selves as living dancing Zac’s. As a result of such similarities, the Angels’ Crew has become an extension of myself, dancing with the same movements, attitude, and execution as mine. The logic works similarly among teachers and students. Professors in Mathematics present proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem and the Triangle Inequality Theorem to students not to pass the baton of theoretical calculations but to mold the latter into solving problems in the ways of the former. Coaches in basketball teach their junior athletes the most effective forms when doing the lay-up or the alley-oop not to pass on all skills to younglings but to shape the latter into playing how the former compete in the games. Lastly, parents slap their children in the rear for being a “bad boy” or a “naughty lady” not to correct the latter for their disobedience but to raise them into grown-ups free from doings trouble-making in the eyes of the former. Hence, educating is a means to extend a teacher’s self into his/her students. Thus, the next time the Angels’ Crew wipe the dance floor with popping and locking moves, I am dancing in the Good Shepherd Sisters and researching on optimization in school at the same time.

From my JEEP experience, the ten dancers have become the center of my three weeks. Within that period, I have transformed them into copies of myself. My service to the community has widened my understanding of myself. I have the capacity to influence people, showing them what I do best. In the perspective of GSS, each one has closed her past self and become the new Zac’s. ~Zachary Bisenio

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