May is Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month and who better to talk to about Filipino culture than our Fil-Am instructor Ally Vega? Get to know about her, her family, projects, influences and more.
Filipino Culture In Dance
When I met Ally, I was so excited to see another Filipina in the dance community. I took her Kpop class at Boogiezone and I was hooked. She is a firecracker on the dancefloor who can walk the walk and talk the talk. I’m inspired by her passion in exploring her own Filipino culture and giving it a real space to breathe and move through her dance company Ancestral Vision Movement. She’s a performer, choreographer, storyteller and dance educator in Los Angeles and we’re so glad she’s part of our tribe! She’s bringing Filipino Folk Fusion— blending of traditional Filipino dance with hip hop dance, to life and creating awareness about Pacific Islanders in dance! 💜
1. Can you talk about where your family is from?
My mother grew up in Olongapo City in the Luzon island of the Philippines, and my dad grew up in Manila, also in the Philippines. Both my grandmothers are coincidentally from Iloilo, which is in the Visayan islands, and both of my grandfathers coincidentally are from Mindanao, which are the southern islands.
2. When did you start dancing and who got you started?
My dad used to be a professional ballroom dancer, so he put my sister and I in classes when we were 7 and 11. I trained in all the studio styles – ballet, jazz, tap, and hip hop. I joined the dance team in middle school, then joined the song team in high school where I was captain for the majority of my time there. I was always someone who loved creating, performing, and organizing – which still rings true ’til this day.
3. How much exposure did you have to your own family’s history and roots growing up in California? Is it something you talk about openly with your family?
Honestly, not a lot. This isn’t an isolated phenomenon – this happens often in a lot of migrant families, particularly from the Philippines. My parents didn’t teach me how to speak Tagalog growing up because they were scared about me getting bullied for being different. My mom vividly told me this memory she had when I was in elementary school and she saw that the public school I was at would put these immigrant kids in a class together (the ESL class) and those kids were seen as “different.” That fear really drove my mom to make sure we spoke the best English. It wasn’t until 2016 when I was casted to be in this Buzzfeed video titled “Asian-Americans Speak Their Native Tongue” where I openly had a dialogue with my parents about what it feels like to be a young 1st generation adult in America not really knowing her roots. This is a story that’s very personal to me and I’ve been honored to talk about this on multiple platforms, and I want everyone to know it’s never too late to start the dialogue with your family. It’s a journey and a process, but it’s one that will give you enlightenment and purpose.
4. Why is dance so important to the Filipino culture?
It’s literally in our blood! In Pre-colonial times before the Spanish, Japanese, and the U.S. came, our people used music, dance, and rituals as a way of existing. The Philippines has thousands of islands and there are SO many different tribes, cultures, and dialects. These traditions mean something to our ancestors and I truly believe even though the colonizers have taken a lot away from our people, we can’t deny that it’s in our blood to honor the music and dance. For us, it’s not just about being entertaining for other people; it’s more about how it brings multiple generations of family together to exchange beautiful energy and spirits.
5. Entertainment, in general, has historically been a difficult space for Asians and Asian Americans to break into. As Hollywood moves toward diverse storytelling, is there movement in the dance industry as well?
I stay hopeful and I’d say it’s moving in a progressive direction. We have plenty of Asian-Americans in Hollywood representing nowadays, but we’re definitely still trying to bring more of our stories to the forefront. When it comes to the dance industry, many Asian-Americans really exist in the pockets of what is historically classical training from Europe like ballet and modern, Latinx influences such as salsa and bachata, and black culture like hip hop, breaking, popping, etc. There are movement artists who have been experimenting by bringing in the movement and influences from our respective motherlands, but now we need to collectively support each other in those efforts to bring that exposure to different audiences. I would say Asian-Americans in the dance industry are going through their own unique journey when it comes to bringing authentic movement and storytelling into the mainstream, and the only way we’re going to keep pushing for success is if we support one another’s efforts.
6. Talk about your mission starting Ancestral Vision Movement
Ancestral Vision Movement is a dance company that bridges urban street dance and traditional dances from the Philippines in order to share the stories of the Philippine diaspora. I created it because I’m still very much exploring what being a 1st generation Filipina-American means to me and I started to see that other Filipino-Americans were also searching for answers and support. I wanted to create a space where my kapwa (companions, friends) and I could have the space to decolonize our thoughts, and learn how to stand in our power as Filipino diaspora.
7. You recently visited the Philippines. Any highlights you want to share?
If you’ve never visited your motherland and you are a young adult in America, make the time to journey back home – even if “home” is a new and strange place to you. I’ve been to the Philippines 7 times in my lifetime and each time I go is a new experience. It’s a new part of me that unfolds and I get to learn what she’s about. I truly believe it’s because my bloodline is activated the moment I step onto our soil and my ancestors are trying to find ways to welcome me home and teach me everything I need to know in that short amount of time. I got to visit Siargao, which is one of the islands in Mindanao, but closer to the Visayan islands, and it’s an incredibly beautiful place. Just remember to honor the land and its people every time you visit somewhere new. You are a guest.
8. How does your Filipino identity and upbringing influence your choreography? Does it also influence your taste in music that you use for projects?
I study the traditional movements and I try to find the intersection of where it parallels with my urban street dance training. I find that that intersection is inherently me – the point where you are one thing merged with another thing and most importantly, this makes you a full and complete person. You should never feel like one is overpowering the other; you ARE a whole and complete person, which makes your movement whole and complete. And yes, all of this influences the music I decide to dance to. I’m blessed that this work has lead me to meet and work with so many other fusion artists from around the world who are also exploring and celebrating our culture. I would never know people from Hawaii, NorCal, Toronto, or the Philippines if it wasn’t for this work that connects us all. Again, if we support each other’s efforts, we can all rise together.
Again, if we support each other’s efforts, we can all rise together.
9. Who are Asian Pacific American public figures that inspire you, and why?
Grace Lee Boggs, who is a Chinese-American author, activist, and philosopher. She wrote many beautiful books about women’s rights and democracy and my favorite thing about her was that she was a proud community activist. She was insanely talented and smart, and at the end of the day, she knew the work had to reach the lives of the people she was trying to educate and mobilize. I love that groundedness to her. I want my work to also follow that path.
I also appreciate folks like Awkwafina for unapologetically being herself. When you realize these people have similar, humble upbringings, it really helps bring you closer to your truth. I’m inspired that someone as fearless and bold as Awkwafina can walk into any space and still be her no matter what. Again, I want my work to also follow that path.
Filipino Culture With A Little Kpop Spin
Ally teaches our Kpop Dance Party which combines hip hop and jazz grooves with popular kpop moves. You can catch her 24/7, 365 days a year on our platform and take her classes whenever you want. Learn kpop dance grooves and moves and feel like the kpop star you truly are!
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