Northside’s Isang Hakbang at “Battle of the Bamboo” 2018
by Kimberly Grabiec
Northside’s Isang Hakbang dance club is a group that practices and performs Filipino cultural dance. At Northside, Isang is known for its dedicated members and constant involvement with the school. Nearly every day since Oct., the sound of team presidents Primlouise Duragos, Adv. 809, and Cyan Balantac, Adv. 805, yelling “five-six-seven-eight,” as well as the sounds of the dancers’ movements, radiated throughout the halls after school. All of the club’s hard work led up to the annual “Battle of the Bamboo” competition held at UIC.
Last year, Northside won first place at the “Battle of the Bamboo” competition against many other high school and university groups. Although the win came as a shock, the time and work that went into the choreography was deserving of the win. This placement created high expectations on this year’s team, as Northside became known as the team to beat. For this reason, the presidents, as well as vice presidents Llorenz Meliton, Adv. 903, and Matthew Villalon, Adv. 903, went straight to work at the beginning of the school year in order to put forth the best storyline in their choreography. Unlike previous years and unlike other competing dance groups, Isang made the decision to choreograph a historical storyline addressing colonialism. The combination of this with more technically difficult movements, as well as more formation changes, proved to be a challenge for the captains to teach and for the group to learn. Overtime practices became longer and occurred more frequently. Before the competition, weekend practices were added to make sure that the choreography was solidified. The time-consuming practices and challenging Northside coursework proved to be a difficult balance for members of Isang, and these common challenges created a family within the dance club. Meliton says, “I feel like Isang is truly a family and they motivated me every day to push through the stress. Battle would not be the same without the people in the club.” Other members strongly agree that the group would not be successful without constant support from one another and the captains.
One of the unique aspects of Isang is their commitment to being a student-led organization, aside from their sponsor, Mr. Nguyen, Computer Science department. In the days leading up to “Battle of the Bamboo,” the group had to work on making some of their own costumes and props. Much of the behind-the-scenes work was not by Isang fans, but it still took a lot of effort and was crucial to the overall performance.
Finally, the day came for Isang to compete at “Battle of the Bamboo.” Teams arrived as early as 6:00am to prepare for performances as late as 9:00pm. Nerves were running high, not only due to the tough competition, but because of the pressure last year’s victory put on the team as well. Before they took the stage, teams from around the city could be seen running through their dances in beautiful costumes and intricate makeup. The scent of hairspray and the sounds of tinikling filled the venue in the hours leading up to the performances. With Northside’s Isang being one of the last teams to perform, UIC’s auditorium was packed to the brim with excited viewers who either came to see their school perform, or to just enjoy the beautiful cultural dances. In Northside’s division, they came up against one other high school team and four college teams.
Northside’s brilliant performance told the story of colonialism while incorporating many other cultural references and styles. The months of practice were evident in their intense performance, as each movement by every member was perfectly placed and synchronized. When the men acted out a fighting scene with their wooden swords, shreds of wood could be seen falling off of their props, illuminating the strength that was put into the choreography. The team had to hold their final poses at the end of the dance while the judges critiqued them. At the end of Isang’s performance, it was unclear which team would win, as every group had a unique and strong showing.
Afterwards, the team went into a room where they rejoiced at their performance with hugs and tears. The presidents and vice presidents took over the room with their emotional speeches about their pride in the team.
During the awards ceremony, presidents from each team stood on stage in front of the audience. First, second, and third place were announced, and unfortunately, Northside’s Isang did not place. This did not undermine the work put into the dance or the quality of the performance, because both were evident to all of the members. Looking forward to next year, Meliton says, “We are going to try to manage our time better but we’re definitely going to strive for another type of story that hasn’t been done before.”