Defining Streetdance in the Philippines

Beyond terminology, beyond definition and cultural lines drawn in the sand, there has existed, arguably since the late 70s, hints of hiphop dance influences at the fringes of Filipino culture and entertainment. We didn’t call it by any name in particular (definitely not hiphop, which was a word we hadn’t quite discovered), save for coining words for certain dance moves—like “funky-funky,” and other equally picturesque terms.

That is, until the early 90s, when one Jungee Marcelo, then fresh from an eleven years’ stay in the United States, started to define its boundaries in the Filipino context and baptized it with the name we all know it by today: streetdance. Streetdance is a distinctly Pinoy term, which isn’t categorically different from hiphop, but rather, defined by cultural nuances and influences that, as Jungee and others of his breed have seen, have made streetdance a variation of hiphop dance that is identifiably Pinoy to the rest of the world.

“I couldn’t use the word hiphop to describe the dance here,” Jungee explains. “Because it seemed to pertain more to the culture of hiphop rather than the dance. So to make the terms clearer, I called it streetdance.” Jungee is more careful than anyone as to how he uses the word hiphop, since he knows how much African-American culture and history actually goes into the word. You certainly won’t see Jungee parading around in baggy pants, heaps of bling, and bandana-under-cap ensembles (although he’s not one to pass up wearing an oversized basketball jersey, but not for any particular associations). “When people ask me, ‘Hiphop ka ba?’” Jungee says. “I tell them I’m a hiphop dancer. I make that clear.”

Perhaps depending on where you come from, you’ll either know Jungee as a composer (who has created songs for the likes of the Papuri! Singers, Gary Valenciano, Paolo Santos, Sarah Geronimo, and Sharon Cuneta, among others), or as a commercial jingle writer (for shows and commercials like Game KNB, Krystala, The Buzz, Hoy Gising!, Palmolive Naturals, and Close-Up, to name a few), or as an exercise instructor (in Hiphop Dance and Precision Cycling Spinning classes at Gold’s Gym and Pinnacle Health Pointe), or even as a broadcaster (on 702DZAS and CBN Asia’s 700 CLUB).

But in the industry of dance, there is no mistaking his reputation. Known to some as the “brown man with a black soul” and to everyone else as a major proponent of hiphop in the Philippines, Jungee is the hiphop dance guru and now Head Coach of the Philippine National Hiphop Teams that compete yearly in the World HipHop Championships in California.

Where it all began

Categorized under the Philippine International Competitive Aerobics Fedration (PICAF), which is under the Philippine Olympic Committee, the Philippine National HipHop Teams currently consist of three teams: The Crew, UP Streetdance and Allstars. The groups all come from different backgrounds,many budding late in the 90s, when streetdance had already become something of a popular pastime.

“Now most of the kids in our group are hiphop instructors themselves, working at ABS-CBN talent center or at local gyms, or even as coaches of dance teams in universities,” Jungee proudly explains. “But when we were starting out in the early 90s, it was a whole different story.”

It had all started when Jungee first brought in a formal streetdance class, following his return from a long stay in Los Angeles. Jungee himself had learned his moves not in formal classes, but down where the real education was: in back alley jam sessions, in underground dance parties, and on the streets of LA, where he first fell in love with hiphop. When he brought his instructional methods back home, there were barely a handful of participants seriously interested in the dance. Even The Crew and UP Streetdance coach Jerome Dimalanta, one of Jungee’s first students, had taken the class unassumingly, around the time that he was also taking his second degree in UP under the College of Human Kinetics. By the time he graduated, Jerome wanted to push Streetdance as a PE subject in UP, which eventually did happen, and which Jerome still teaches at UP until now.

“There used to be a hole in the wall gym on Katipunan called Sweatshop,” Jungee recalls. “Friends and friends of friends—a dancer from Powerdance, professors from UP College of Human Kinetics, among others—got together and learned streetdance under me. That was the first time I discovered the joy of teaching, and I found it to be my release.” Of course, on the other hand, his work in production also ate up a lot of Jungee’s time (as it always tends to do), and eventually he stopped teaching his hiphop classes to concentrate on other priorities.

Then fast forward to 2005—Gold’s Gym became interested in opening a different kind of exercise class, and at the top of their list was none other than Jungee Marcelo, whom they wanted to teach a hiphop dance (which happened to be a rising fitness trend at the time). “I was surprised they asked me since I had gained a lot of weight then, because I’d worked in music production, where you’re usually sitting to work all day and constantly reaching for food to munch. And not to mention my wife cooks really well,” Jungee recalls with a smirk. Nevertheless, Jungee took on the job, and soon after starting at Gold’s, he was asked to be a judge in the Philippine Nationals for Hiphop, the winner of which would be sent to the States to compete in—what else?—the World Hiphop Championships.

“The funny part was,” Jungee remembers. “After I’d judged the contest, they called me back and asked me if I wanted to coach the team going to the international competition, since they apparently had no coach lined up!” PICAF Secretary General Lei Fernandez, who was incidentally also manager at Gold’s and therefore greatly helped in getting the gym’s support for the teams, had been pushing for a Philippine Team to compete abroad. “The Philippines had been sending a delegation since 2004, three years after the World Hiphop Competition was first established,” Jungee says. Well enough, since last year, Philippine team Allstars made sixth place, and just a few weeks ago, in a much-publicized return, they had topped the Italian Open.

“This year, we took the top three teams in the Nationals, and we’re sending all of them to better our chances of winning,” Jungee says, explaining that other countries, like the US, send as much as six teams to compete. “The one to beat this year is last year’s champion, London. Right now, they’re the toughest team in the world.” A proud note, however, as both Jungee and Coach Jerome attest, is that most of the teams that got a place in the competition actually had half-Pinoy members. In fact, the US team that took third place last year was actually composed purely of Fil-Ams.

Defining Streetdance

What’s the difference between streetdance and hiphop? “Mostly cultural context, which also includes terminology,” explains Jungee. “They’re more technically descriptive with their terms, like popping and locking. But in the Philippines, we would use terms like hataw or gigil or hinay-hinay instead.”

Coach Jerome, who took his Master’s in Physical Education, majoring of course in Dance, turned in an ethnographic study of streetdance for his thesis. “There are really distinct differences between streetdance and hiphop,” Jerome says. “For one, streetdance developed with more dynamic movement and linear movements which you don’t necessarily find in hiphop. Hiphop is basically popping, locking and breakdancing, but in streetdance, we have a lot of more expansive movement, linear movement, and a lot of influences from outside, like jazz. I think streetdance can already be considered a variation of hiphop.”

“We stem from the new school of hiphop, which was initiated by Wade Robson,” Jungee also explains. “A little of jazz is incorporated into hiphop, which is a huge break away from the strictly old school of hiphop.” Jungee, once being an old school purist himself, now actually incorporates influences even other than jazz to dance. “I take what I see around me and I add it to streetdance,” he says. “There was really a time I was a purist, but then you come to realize to eventually stop growing.”

Another visible difference between hiphop and streetdance, a characteristic sometimes considered a flaw, is that streetdance—especially and unfortunately commercial streetdance (i.e. noontime variety show dance)—tends to be in the tempo and timing of the dancers. “Because of Spanish dance influences, pasugod tayo sumayaw,” Jungee explains. “We always seem to be anticipatory of the music and beat, so our movements are often presumptuous.” In Jungee’s experience, most people jump into hiphop without getting into the ever-important groove first. “Which is why I try to encourage people to sing the groove,” Jungee says. “It helps them feel the music and movement.”

“On the first day of each of my Streetdance PE classes in UP,” Coach Jerome recalls. “One of the first things I always tell students is not to go ahead of the beat.” If you watch African-Americans dancing hiphop, you notice how laid back their movements are. “They don’t anticipate the music, they follow it.”

On the subject of noontime variety shows, another major difference is in the history and meaning of each dance for its corresponding culture. “On its own, hiphop dance suffers from a lot of historical questions and is not as well-documented as other aspects of the hiphop culture, such as rap, which everyone knows comes from African oral traditions,” says Coach Jerome. “In hiphop dance, there are different claims as to where it originated—until today, those from the East Coast claim one thing, and those from the West Coast claim another.”

On a whole, however, what is agreed upon is that what is most important is the symbolic meaning of the dance for the African-Americans. Streetdance, on the other hand, is for Filipinos mostly just as source of entertainment. “For the African-Americans, the dance is a part of their culture and their struggle,” says Coach Jerome. “For us it’s really just entertainment.” He recalls watching a dance documentary which featured one hiphop move called krumping, which is done very fast and always appears very angry. “That has deep rooted social significance, because it recalls the angst or anger that they have,” he explains.

On a last, rather surprising note, one very specific difference between hiphop and streetdance is that streetdancers, apparently, are far more graceful in their movements. “It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? ‘Graceful hiphop,’” says Jungee. “But Pinoys really do move very gracefully, it’s natural to us. The best streetdancers in the country move very gracefully, they practically flow. For example, if you see the Maneuvers dance, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a very Pinoy thing.”

Moving Forward

“For this competition we are incorporating certain moves from native Filipino dances,” says Jungee. “And we’re even using Francis M.’s ‘Meron Akong Kuwento.’”

“Last year was a learning experience for us,” Coach Jerome says. “Many of the judges were also from the old school, so our dances then many not have gone over very well with them. What we’re doing now in adding Filipino influences may help us stand out and catch their attention—of course, we know it’s also a huge risk at the same time.”

Coach Jerome, as perhaps the only academician involved deeply in streetdance, and as one of the few to be pushing to standardize streetdance and to eventually get it recognized as a dance art form, has been working on a book based on his thesis, tentatively titled Streetdance 101, which focuses on how streetdance is developing right now in the Philippines, for example how it has only gelled together lately, after being radically split up before.

“Streetdance has developed differently over different fronts, mainly the academic, the breakdances on the street, and the commercial streetdance,” Jerome explains. “What we want to do in the academe is to standardize learning to a degree, so as to facilitate the learning process. We don’t want it to simply be ‘gayahin mo ang ginagawa ko,’ rather, we break down the moves so there are steps to all of it.” The key is to give the basics, but still not remove the dynamism and versatility of streetdance, where improvisation and influences are always welcome. “The important thing is basic form, structure and technique, which a lot of people wrongly think doesn’t exist in streetdance,” says Jerome.

“Streetdance is one of the things we’re very good at,” says Jerome. “Not kopya, but in that we can easily adapt to the music and movement.” Since notation is also key to elevating streetdance to the higher level of dance art form, it is also important and interesting to be able to document its evolution in the country.

“I hope that in my lifetime I will get to see the Philippines win in the World HipHop Championship,” Jerome says. “Whether it’s my own team or not that achieves that doesn’t matter, since the culture of hiphop is such that even if you are competitors, you still maintain respect for each other. But, as an academician, what I hope for is to see my dance influence grow and evolve.”

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