MANILA -- Rhea Dumdum-Bautista was only 11 years old when she was exposed to the art of dance in Cebu. Thanks to the tours of Ballet Philippines (BP) and Philippine Ballet Theater, she saw the performances of the prima ballerinas Lisa Macuja, Anna Villadolid, and Cecile Sicangco. From summer workshops in Manila, her passion grew and she later became one of BP’s principal dancers, and now a ballet teacher.
Rhosam Villareal Prudenciado Jr. began seriously training for dance in college, and his dance teacher Annie Sartorio encouraged him to audition for dance companies in Manila. As a professional dancer of 14 years, his chosen craft has taken him from Iloilo to the nation’s capital, as well as across Asia, US, and Europe.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the country and hit us hard, both Rhea and Sam lost their audience and students, and they found themselves among thousands of dancers and performers around the country fearing the loss of their livelihood.
Instead of slumping in defeat and waiting for the government to bail them out, the two mobilized quickly not only to recover their income but more inspiringly, to help the dance community.
LikhaPH: a movement for dancers by dancers
“The pandemic and the sudden loss of job opportunities for Filipino dancers pushed LikhaPH to work harder and create more programs that would raise enough funds for Filipino dance professionals,” explains founder Sam who set it up a year ago on his 35th birthday. Four years earlier, he was diagnosed with a Degenerative Spine injury which led him to rethink his career and how he could continue in the dance community.
With Rhea and other friends including PJ Rebullida, Nicole Primero, and Chantal Primero, plus independent dance companies such as Airdance, Galaw.Co, and Daloy, LikhaPH grew as an organization solely operated by dance professionals and a movement for dancers by dancers.
Dancers Respond to COVID-19
Strangely enough, it was COVID-19 and the events of 2020 that pushed the program to really grow. Instead of retreating in the face of a global health crisis, Sam and his supporters immediately set-up LikhaPH Sustainability, a 7-month program to address the rise of unemployment among dance professionals.
“It was specifically created as a response to the pandemic. We aim to financially support professional Filipino dance artists across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. To date, we have assisted 107 individual dancers from about 15 provinces nationwide, 5 Manila-based dance companies, and have hired 48 teachers for our free-for-all online dance classes. We are targeted to continue supporting these dance companies, add 93 more individual dancers, and schedule about 140-150 more paid teachers by December,” shares Sam.
For a Community that Creates and Collaborates
LikhaPH strives to make art, connect with artists, and build an environment of inspired and thriving dancers across the Philippines.
“Our vision was to build a community and encourage Filipino dancers by providing mentorship, financial support, and access to a network of artists and enthusiasts,” recalls Sam. “Cash aid is at the forefront of our efforts as we believe in financially enabling dance professionals so they may continue to create art. Our goal is to counter the idea of ‘starving artist’.”
In addition to providing monthly stipends, cash aid and work for struggling dancers, LikhaPH also fosters a strong sense of community with regular online video discussions among dancers. This platform encourages them to share their major concerns, upcoming projects so they can support one another, or just any feel-good topics.
PJ, who apart from supporting LikhaPH also serves as Artistic Director of Galaw.Co Dance Theater, is very thankful to the organization “who rose to the occasion to put dancers’ welfare to the fore. At the peak of the lockdown when we didn’t know what to do or where to go for help, all 8 members of Galaw.Co received donations. We are happy that LikhaPH has our back by giving us a monthly stipend to augment our incomes until December 2020. We pray for the success of LikhaPH because they truly care for the Filipino dancer.”
Hip-hop dance Jhayz Polintan who has been battling cancer for the past year echoes PJ. "LikhaPH helped me push through my chemo sessions even during the current pandemic by sending monetary help. Ever since the pandemic happened, all my fundraising events were cancelled and I had a very hard time because everyone is in need. That's why I'm really thankful to LikhaPH because even during this time they are trying their best to help me."
Surviving Quarantine and Pandemic
Can dance survive as we remain in quarantine and there seems no end in sight to this raging pandemic? LikhaPH believes dance is a flexible profession and key to survival is well, to keep moving.
Sam’s advice: “For the artists, make time to reflect on yourself and your career. Take this pandemic-pause to assess and better yourself in terms of investing your mind, body, time, and finances. If it's too difficult, find a different strategy. If it's not working, don't be afraid of change. If you are serious about your craft, stay hopeful - there will always be help available and a way to reach your goal.”
Apart from her work with LikhaPH, Rhea also offers inspiration in how she has managed her dance career. Before the quarantine, she was a freelance teacher and ballet coach, teaching ballet in several ballet schools including BP and Acts Manila. She was also laying down plans to launch a business.
Rhea had an average of 2-3 hours of classes a day, 6 days a week. That all went to zero when the quarantine started. Four months later, Rhea reports that her income sources have recovered and is nearly comparable to pre-quarantine level.
“What helped was my willingness to try the digital space very early, even if it was imperfect. I had to learn by the day. I offered free Live classes as early as March 13, right before the quarantine was put in effect. Eventually I moved to paid classes and private coaching. I am blessed to have the trust of the studios that hire me, and the students and their parents. So I work very hard to maintain that trust and respect,” shares Rhea.
Between Rhea and Sam, we can find many reasons to keep moving, to keep them dancing, for the future of artists and a COVID-free country.
If you would like to support LikhaPH, they welcome donations via GCash, PayPal and bank transfers. For more information, visit LikhaPH in Facebook @Likhaphoutreachprogram.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.