We (Brennon, James and Ela) initially had a hard time selecting what event or activity we could participate in. We didn’t have much choice since our options were limited given that Brennon is into sports as part of Arnis varsity, James, as an Enta member, is into acting and Ela is into organizational stuff as an active member in AIESEC and all that’s kikay. Grouping together was tough because we had to consider everyone’s familiarity with everything in order to choose which activity we can attend as our fieldwork.. There were a lot of proposals turned down, ideas unaccepted and futile attempts to find a common ground. But it took us to look at what we do in common to find out what we really need. All three of us play Dance Central and we thought for a moment, why were we so addicted to it? It was when we knew that none of us actually dance [i.e., lack of dancing skills] and that kinect was our manner of compensating or coping.
With this idea in mind, James reckoned that we could attend a dance class in a studio located in the same building as his condominium. The group thought it was pretty convenient and utterly interesting. We have never been into a dance class before –ballet, jazz, ballroom, name it all. Dancing for recitals or shows was not our scene but dancing for frivolity was our thing. So yes finally, we decided to observe and participate in a dance class and to make it even more interesting, in a lyrical hiphop class.
And so our adventure began.
Last February 26, 2013, Tuesday, we went to ACTS Dance and Arts Academy Studio in GA Tower Building, Edsa-Boni, Mandaluyong City. We joined their 6 p.m. lyrical hiphop dance class with choreographer Ms. Kheng Francisco. Coach Kheng teaches hiphop, lyrical hiphop, diva and Kpop. She is one of the founding and current members, and choreographers of the Company of Stylettos Dance Group. She was also a member of the Bounce who performed both in ASAP and SOP, from 2005-2007.
We were actually in a hurry to arrive in time because we just came from our respective classes and we were caught in line at Cubao MRT station ticket booth. Riding in a public transportation like MRT has always been a new experience. Every time we ride in it, we always get to see different faces, different characters and have different encounters. Rides had always been unique. It was a fieldwork on its own. We were in line waiting on the platform. We were amazed on how Filipinos, nowadays, had learned to organize themselves by lining up on the marked spots while waiting for the MRT. However, there were still a number who were not sensitive enough to follow the order. That time, the train wasn’t full and crowded when we got in. Most passengers were also students like us. There were also some professionals and employees. As the train stopped by Ortigas and Shaw Boulevard, more and more people were getting in making it harder to move -elbows bumping elbows, dodging bodies. The train was so cramped up that passengers had to move sideways in and out of the train like thin bladed daggers slicing through this mass of people. Yet, going in the train is one story while going out is another.
Arriving at the ACTS Dance and Arts Academy and having been so enthusiastic about this whole agenda, we made a beeline to the studio. Just as expected, the studio was a typical dance studio like what we see in movies. Imagine the movie Black Swan with the wall mirrors, monstrous speakers and glossy floors but without the rails for the ballerinas. The studio was a bit smaller than an Ateneo classroom. We first noticed the song, Best I Ever Had by Drake playing loudly over those speakers. The very loud music was rather expected to reverberate within the four walls of the room. The studio was air-conditioned. There was a small counter for reception and shelves for the students’ bags. Speaking of which, we saw other students of our contemporaries chit chatting with their own group of friends.The atmosphere inside was just like that of a typical classroom. There’s the teacher (Coach Kheng) waiting for the bell (the time of the class) and the students talking with each other while waiting for the class to start.
The place smelled so good; it was as if the studio was fumigated with perfume to perhaps eliminate the expected odor when students sweat later. There were only two instructors during that time –Coach Keng and Apple. From there clothes alone, we can tell we were in the right class. Who says baggy pants, racer backs and tank tops layered over the other, chunky rubber shoes and long socks are not hiphop at all? After seeing the students, we looked at ourselves and checked if our outfits fit the dominant style of the room. More or less, we were not out of place and blending in was not a problem. But our “camouflage” will certainly fade off soon once the three of us start dancing. Things are going to get tough from now on and surely our inherent gawkiness won’t help a bit.
The lyrical hiphop dance class had a very welcoming aura wherein people were so lively and passionate enough to make you want to dance with them (even though we were not actually experienced dancers to begin with). We first introduced ourselves then eventually we took our spots on the dance floor, giving one another the space to move around and dance. We noticed that those who knew each other stayed closer to one another.
During the routine, at some point, some of us became competitive, intimidated but mostly just trying to figure out the moves. For some unfathomable reason, our hands and legs just would not cooperate. When the mind says move right, the left leg does so and it felt like we were doing it correctly. But not until we saw ourselves in the mirror with everyone else’s reflection that we realized two things –we were wrong and that the others were, for Pete’s sake, graceful! Our progress was slow but unfortunately, the others kept going. They were not slowing down for us nor were we getting any faster than them. But the coaches were very kind enough to initiate a slower pace for us.
The dance class was fun and can be considered a workout because we move all parts of the body, both left and right sides. We actually didn’t sweat given the room was air-conditioned and the steps and pace were not that tiring. However, we really felt that it was a good rejuvenating activity for the body. Additionally, what makes lyrical hiphop different was that it is the contemporary form of interpretative dancing. We dance to the lyrics of the song, but not with pirouettes and leg-lifting. It was more on brisk stomping, sliding, arm lifts, well basically hiphop. Example, if the song says “beg for it”, we also had moves with palms up, seemingly begging.
When the session was over, we decided to stay a little bit longer. We practiced the routine one last time and we also grabbed this opportunity to get to know the coaches [and fish for information secretly]. They asked if we study at Ateneo because apparently, Brennon was wearing his arnis varsity jersey. We found out that both coaches came from Miriam College and had sessions there, too. They were curious how we ended up there and if we dance. The latter is obvious enough, they didn’t even have to ask [but they did]. We told them we don’t dance and we knew about their classes from their official website.
Perhaps they wonder because our presence there was rather very conspicuous. The three of us were the only walk-ins. Additionally, with our errors along the way, we distracted all the others. But in our defense, we weren’t “class crashers”. We were there to participate [but still keeping our hidden intentions] and honestly, the coaches were truly happy to have us. Even Coach Kheng encouraged us to start dancing not only for fun or whim but also for stage performances. Maybe because we were surprisingly good for first timers or we can always dream of that to be the case. But seriously, the coaches really aim that not only do they get to do what they love but also share to others what they love doing. And for a coach who has been dancing all her life, being able to share her talents is one way of giving back to the world that blessed her with elegance and grace in movements.
In conclusion, we had fun with the whole experience and it was with this feeling that the three of us actually had thoughts of considering hiphop classes for this summer. There’s this fulfillment inside us knowing that we can actually dance. In addition, we realized that there’s nothing to be scared of going out of your comfort zones and be immersed in others’. Sometimes, it’s in those times where you learn things about other people and more about yourself.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Through participant observation, we were able to gather a lot of things that plain observation might miss out on. For example, we might have missed out on the challenges of hiphop dancing. Seeing the moves can come off as an easy task, like a walk in the park. But honestly, when you are actually dancing it, it’s a whole lot different story. It is rather difficult especially for beginners like us. Moreover, observing would not provide us with the feelings (e.g., pain) and experiences (e.g., of getting intimidated, competitive and realizations) of actually doing the things that these people do.We would not have felt the awkward feeling and the laughter especially every time we committed mistakes in the lyrical hiphop dance. Thus, it is an entirely different method to just observe someone do hiphop and to partake in the practice itself. It is always better to immerse oneself into something to fully see what it is like to be in the situation or circumstance.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Ms Kheng Francisco, our choreographer and informant was actually really helpful. Having an informant would help you in answering the basic or fundamental questions that you have regarding the field you are studying. So in our case, Ms. Kheng helped us answer the technical questions about hiphop such as how some steps required an abrupt motion while mixing it up with some smoothness in between. She even made us understand the distinctiveness of lyrical hiphop that it is not just some regular hiphop dancing. She also shared with us some of her past experiences teaching lyrical hiphop dance. She mentioned that there are really times when her students quickly get the choreography and also there are times that they just have a hard time following her.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Some things that a questionnaire or interview might miss would be the insights and learning that we might have learned firsthand from actually doing the lyrical hiphop dance as opposed to asking someone how they felt about it. So it is really a different feeling to have a hands-on experience because in this case, we do not have to doubt for its validity. Another thing, being a participant observer means that we are one with the audience. And so, this would remove their timidness or what we call “observer bias” and thus, we could observe the event naturally without disrupting how it normally would go about. Unlike if we were to conduct an interview on each of the participants, we have to find a way to take away their self-consciousness. And sometimes, the interviewee may have the tendency to only say the answers that what he/she thinks are answers we want to hear. We might make them act, behave or answer differently because they know that someone is watching their every move. Thus, we would never find the real answers that we are looking for in an interview. Questionnaires may also not be as effective as participant observation because the ones answering can always lie and misrepresent themselves.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Some cases wherein it would be better to use a questionnaire or interview would be if we were looking for abstract or general information about the lyrical hiphop. Some of the questions might be like “how many people participate in this lyrical dance class on a certain day?”, “why is the price 300?”, “do people usually come back after?”, “are there more boys or girls that participate in this dance?” and many other questions which you can answer by having an interview. One can come up with a certain conclusion on the basis of the expert (Ms. Kheng) with interviews. However, if you ask specific and based-on-opinion questions, the interviewee might not be able to answer or perhaps, answer it based on own biases. Such as whether how long does it take for someone to learn the dance steps of the “Best I Ever Had” by Drake would possibly be answered based on how the interviewee sees it but may not truly represent what the students’ learning progress is. Henceforth, it would be better to conduct a participant observation and find out the answer of the latter question by ourselves.
By: James Castillo, Ela Clavano, Brennon Sua