Tan-ok ni who?

The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.

The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.

Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.

But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?

I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?

San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.

Cockfighting. Tan-ok ni who?

Not Laoagueños, or not just Laoagueños, for there is cockfighting in every nook and corner of the Philippine archipelago. Why then was “pallot” chosen over many things we can be proud of in Laoag? Our guests who will watch this presentation, what impression will we imprint in their consciousness about who and what we are as a people?

Ah, the crisis of identity. And I thought we are beginning to be serious in our efforts to define Laoag City and the Pamulinawen Festival.

All these said, let me reiterate that the Laoag dancers were really superb. I am proud of their skills and showmanship. And they should not be faulted for telling a story that is not distinctly ours. It was not their choice to put entertainment over truthfulness and cultural integrity. Definitely, it was not their decision to misrepresent the people of Laoag.

Laoag City, champion
Laoag City, champion

Tie between Laoag and Batac

This I gathered from inside sources. During their deliberation, the judges initially had Batac and Laoag at a tie for the championship. There were three judges, and two of them are Ilocanos: Edred de Vera Piamonte and Menardo Panela Jr., both from Vigan City. The third judge is Edna Vida Froilan, former artistic director of Ballet Philippines and former director of the CCP dance school.

And here was the judging criteria:

Theme/Story: 25 percent

Choreography: 30 percent

Performance: 30 percent

Costume/props: 15 percent

For the championship, Piamonte–the artistic director of four well-known Ilocos Sur festivals– voted for Batac while Froilan chose Laoag. It was a tie between Batac and Laoag for Panela, who has participated in dance recitals choreographed by Froilan. The judges considered announcing two champions but decided to split the tie. Froilan argued that Laoag’s story was clearer. She also said it was “ripe.” In the end, the board of judges chose Laoag.

I agree with Froilan that Laoag’s cockpit story is very clear. But it is also clearly not ours, or not just ours. As to “ripe,” it was ripe mango on a banana tree.

I have been accused several times of not being proud of Laoag, my hometown. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I love my city. I am proud of my people. And I look forward to more artistic presentations celebrating our real greatness outside the cockpit.

San Nicolas, 2nd runner up
San Nicolas, 2nd runner up
City of Batac, 1st runner up
City of Batac, 1st runner up
Christian Espiritu: multi-awarded choreographer


Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

9 thoughts on “Tan-ok ni who?”

  1. Cockfighting or pallot is illegal in Hawaii. However, authorities cannot eradicate this game. There had been a lot of arrests but once a venue is discovered, Palloteros simply transfer to another place.
    For me, this should be banned. It is not only an illegal gambling activity but more of cruelty to animals. The roosters are set in the arena with sharp blade tied on their feet. One or sometimes both fighters would end up in the cooking pan. When I was still in the Philippines, I knew of several palloteros who gave better care to their roosters than to their children. The roosters are provided with food and vitamins, shelter and proper grooming. Roosters are given daily proper training and exercise. Sometimes or most often, palloteros spend more time to their cocks than to their wives.

    1. I agree. I know many people who discards the good of their own children in exchange of this vice.

  2. In short story and other literary contests, the entry that veers away from the theme is not considered for the major prizes. All things being equal, Batac should have received the Katan-okan Award. Special prize for Laoag.

  3. This and some previous entries indicate that there is lack of cultural research in Ilocandia, which is necessary if we are to preserve our culture for future generations. However, I would like to express my comment regarding the Tan-ok Festival and its mini version. While they showcase our age-old traditions and inform people of the festivities held around the province, for me, there is a problem on sustainability and progressiveness.
    The main Tan-ok Festival showcases festivals from all component local governments of Ilocos Norte, but if this is all that we do annually, people will run out of ideas eventually, and last year’s Tan-ok Festival is the evidence, where performances, even Laoag’s, were not that exciting and creative compared to the performances of 2012. As to progressiveness, I feel that the Tan-ok Festival, while preserving culture, does little to generate and evolve Ilocano culture. However, I do recognize that there was a graphic novel contest last year and other activities, but such media is not something that touches the majority of people.
    Here’s my suggestion on how the Tan-ok Festival can be improved:
    Instead of having a one-category, “dance your festival” event, there must be several categories, which may be held on different days and in different venues. My suggested categories are the following:
    1. Ilocano Folk Dances (Folkloriko a Salsala ni Ilocano): it’s time to revive old society dances, such as Chotis Dingrena. To build on these dances, new music, following the style of traditional songs, and choreography to the traditional steps of these folk dances must be encouraged, or better, must be made part of competition.
    2. Tadek and Highland Dances (Tadek ken Salsala iti Bantay): to provide more awareness of our highland and Isneg cultures, these dances must enter the consciousness of the lowland Ilocano majority. As with the first category, new music, following the style of traditional highland music, and choreography to the traditional steps must be encouraged or be made part of the competition. I also imagine that the Tadek can be developed into a very refined art to make it the Ilocano ballet, or to eventually make ballet the Western Tadek.
    3. Contemporary Ilocano Dances and Dance Music (Kontemporaneo a Salsala ni Ilocano ken Musika a Pangsala): to make the youth more enthusiastic on cultural preservation and development, the media that most touches them must be used. Hip hop and modern dances must be danced to tunes using the Ilocano language. This contest will be judged based on the dance interpretation and the music used, or the dance and the music may be recognized separately.
    In addition to the dance categories, Tan-ok Festival must also have a Contemporary Ilocano Music Competition (Pasalip iti Kontemporaneo a Musika ni Ilocano), and when one says contemporary music, this is not to mean the “folksy” new Ilocano songs or the novelty Ilocano songs produced today. Modern genres such as pop, rock, rap, and the likes must be adopted to the Ilocano language. This has a number of advantages. On the economic side, Ilocos Norte can be the birth place of the true modern Ilocano music industry. On the cultural side, the youth will be encouraged to preserve and patronize Ilocano music. On the linguistic side, the products of the new multilingual education policy will have an additional legitimate venue to use our mother language, Ilocano.
    If we are to be more ambitious, we can also start an Ilocano film industry. We already started with short horror films, so let us start the “Tan-ok ni Ilocano Fiesta ti Pelikula” where the goal is to eventually have full-length Ilocano movies. This film festival can start by accepting “half-length” films using the Ilocano language as the main language.
    There can also be a literary contest, where in addition to the traditional short story and poetry categories, a category for different types of novel may be added. I would like to see Ilocano sci-fi, mystery, horror, thriller, romance, etc. novels. Perhaps, a play writing category can also be opened, and then in the coming years, modern Ilocano plays can be staged.
    Of course, these suggestions can be made into different events, independent of the Tan-ok Festival. I hope this serves as my humble contribution to the running theme of Gobernadora Imee’s administration, Pasingkedan ti Tan-ok ni Ilocano, and I hope this reaches her. Cheers!

  4. i have always admired art works that make me think… whether… visual… performance… and the other art forms i know… in your face interpretations and presentations bore me… well… that’s just my ordinary-mind’s opinion…

    having said that… i have some points to ask or clarify… what is tan-ok ni ilocano all about?… is it glorifying the past or celebrating the future… is it preserving our rich cultural heritage or blazing new trails… and what is ilokano culture by the way… is it only about the ways of the old… can we not include the present and the future… after all… culture is ever-evolving…

    moreover…i have some suggestions to make regarding choosing the judges… ilocano judges for obvious reasons… sociologists… the event is bent on promoting culture… sociologists will not fail on this matter… ordinary individuals who are passionate about the arts… the “experts” have failed us too many times… tie? find people who can make up their minds… find people who are decisive…

    speaking about tie… to whom would you award the plum-prize… the group that followed the guidelines or the group that failed to follow the guidelines… i have always believed that competitors measure up to the guidelines first before anything or anybody… the guidelines is the toughest rival in any competition…

    i hope i am making sense… i am not much of a writer… pardon me if my piece is tupsy-turvy…

    1. i agree with you.this is not the first time batac is bypassed if i remember correctly it was also a dance competition and it was batac and laoag neck and neck but they awarded the first prize to laoag.some little birdies told me that batac faired better.

  5. Though we know that cockfighting is a part of fiestas, this is not a valid “reason” to make it as the main stage in the dance portrayed by Laoag.
    It is a shame therefore that even them, the MAIN citizens of the place doesn’t know the real definition of Pamulinawen the fact that it can be defined broadly.

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