Dancing in the sun

Seeing my kids Sophie and Elmo participate in their school's field demonstration last Sunday made me remember how it was when I was the one out there, baking in the sun.

To the uninitiated, field demonstration – that vague, generic term – refers to an assembly of all students belonging to the same grade or year level. The children first parade around the school grounds, or on nearby streets, after which they perform their dance, complete with colorful (and darn expensive!) costumes.

At St. Mary's, this year's theme was Philippine festivals. Elmo and the other fifth graders went for Baguio's Panagbenga while Sophie and her fellow eighth graders descended to Iloilo for the Dinagyang.

But their St. Mary's was not always called that. In my time, it was called Our Lady of Grace Academy, and we had our fair share of field demonstrations, too.

Kinder Senior – Abracadabra. Had to wear leotards.

Grade 2 – Abaruray Abarinding (a folk dance). My partner was Jennie, one of my best friends who is now a Canadian citizen. She was the “boy”; I was the girl. Our adviser, Miss Bigaw (now Elmo's godmother) used to teach us thus: Step brush, step point. Step brush, step point. I remember Miss Bigaw's hair in pink rollers and her stockinged feet in abaca slippers.

Grade 5 – Calisthenics with a rattan ring. I can hear the song we danced to in my head but I do not know the title.

Grade 6 – Muslim dance. The star of the show was batchmate Michelle Zamesa, now a flight attendant and Lactum mom model. She sat on bamboo stilts. Michelle was the so-called golden girl of our batch – pretty, long-haired, great singer and dancer. A few other pretty girls served as her damas. The rest of us were, ugh, unremarkable in our malongs, our nondescript PE t-shirts underneath.

First Year – Cha cha (ably taught by our PE teacher, Mrs. Copiaco – I wonder where she is now). My Lola sewed my green-and-black balloon skirt herself.

Second year – Gymnastics, to the tune of Lean on Me (Some/times in our lives/ we make mistakes/ we all have trouble). Simply thinking about the steps and forms we made then is now enough to transmit pain into my joints.

Third year – Boogie medley (Jive Bunny?) I was a boy this time, so I wore a cap, and people said I was “cute” (the school was still exclusive in the 1990s). I forget who my partner was.

Fourth year – Sayaw sa bangko. I also forgot who my partner was, and whether I was a boy or a girl. I can say however that I did not fall off the bench.

I don't remember the dances for the other years, but what I do remember is the feel of the sun on my bare scalp. There were endless practices, first in PE class, and then as the day approached, we would practice for an entire half day and on the open field. There was no audigym then, during my time, so the field was so much bigger.
I wonder how we survived all that enforced sunbathing without getting sick. Or lice.

The school photographer, Mrs. Aguilar, would put an inconspicuous ribbon on your chest if your parent made special arrangements to have you photographed. You would wait months before you got your picture – one regular sized, another blown up. Today, of course, it's a free-for-all: Smartphones, iPads, iPad minis, etcetera etcetera. Instant posting on Facebook, too, if you want.

The field demos then were held during weekdays, and my grandmother would just swing by, climb the stairs to the third or fourth floor of the building for a great vantage point. One can appreciate the color of the costumes and the supposedly coordinated movements of the entire batch from up high. And then she would go home as quietly as she came in.

Last Sunday, though, the buildings were locked and so the spectators had no choice but to crane their necks if they wanted to have a good look, if not at the entire ensemble, then their own child. I guess they were wary about thieves especially since kids these days have their own pricey gadgets. Of course, we did not have that kind of access to expensive things during our time.

When the field demonstration was over I found a corner and ate a slice of green mango with bagoong. I thought then, if I closed my eyes I could believe as though I were in high school again, letting the sour-salty combination explode in my mouth. It's all right, I told myself, not everything changes – at least not drastically.

And then I sat down, waiting for my kids to find me.