Saucier resident Bernadette Goodness began learning the traditional dances of her native Philippines while attending high school in her hometown of Davao City. Traditional dance is part of physical education classes in the Philippines, just as square dancing used to be in many American schools. Francisca Reyes Aquino had conducted systematic research on Philippine national folk dance during the 1950s, and the government decided that this could be a fine addition to education throughout the nation, encouraging both cultural awareness and good health. Bernadette loved dance in general, from the ballet she learned as a young girl to ballroom dance and her nation’s own dances. In college, many kinds of dances were cultivated in the Dance and Theater Guild, and after graduation, many alumnae kept dancing in ensembles that enjoyed putting on shows. Indeed, Bernadette found this skill useful in her early working life in Manila, where ballroom dancing was integral to hospitality at conventions held by Triumph, International.
Bernadette began traveling to and from the United States in 2000. She met her future husband in New York and moved with him to southern Mississippi. In Biloxi, they joined Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, which offers a mass for its Filipino parishioners every Wednesday evening (in English, with songs in Tagalog). This congregation encompasses much of the substantial Filipino community on the Gulf Coast. Bernadette’s offer to organize dance ensembles in 2006 was very welcome. Dance had already been part of celebrations in the Gulf Coast’s Filipino-American Society—dance and music are important in immigrant communities worldwide in maintaining group identity—but Bernadette’s involvement increased this activity greatly here.
The array of dances Goodness teaches is vast and varied. Traditional dance in the Philippines mixes ancient ritual dances with the elegant additions that arrived during surges in Spanish colonization during the 17th century and afterwards. There are 1) rustic dances stemming from minority populations in the northern mountains (the Philippine “skylands” or cordillera), 2) Spanish-inspired dances named for María Clara, the charming and gracious main female character in a series of satirical nationalistic novels written late in the 19th century by Dr. José Rical, 3) a southern Filipino group of dances meshing Malay and Borneo elements with Muslim influence within Spain (reflecting that many Spanish colonists were from the southern province of Andalucia, where Islam left a lasting imprint), and 4) a series of festive, colorful dances with general Philippine rural associations.
Goodness, rather than trying for a balanced representation of these cultural riches, must select dances for which she has dancers. For instance, most of the half-dozen programs mounted each year feature the Habanera de Jovencita (from the elegant María Clara suite) because this is for women only, and most of Goodness’ initial group of dancers were female. On the other hand, boys and girls both enjoy the athletic fun of the Tinikling. This title refers to how birds hop around. In this dance, long pieces of bamboo are clacked together near the floor in a complex rhythm. Dancers touch down between and outside of the ever-more-quickly moving bamboo logs until finally trapped or tripped while laughing breathlessly. Dancing under Goodness’ tutelage will continue to enliven Gulf Coast Filipino life. She says that dancing reinforces pleasant memories of the Philippines, is an offering to God, and is just plain fun.
– Chris Goertzen