A year of indak: Dancing my way through my Pilipnx culture

Cal in Color

The image is ingrained in my head: a medley of generations — titos and titas, lolos and lolas, kuyas and ates gathered in my lola’s cramped living room. Legs pulsing. Eyes glinting. Hands sporadic in movement. Every part of me wants to join in, but the nervousness gets the best of me, and I stay seated.

I watch in awe of their energy, their laughter, their joy. It may not have always looked graceful, but the tremendous amount of bliss and community that radiated in their frenzied yet enthralling movements always transcended the limits of the physical space we embodied.

Flash forward to a twinkly lit Tilden Room on a Wednesday night in October 2018. {m}aganda has just finished its first open mic of the semester, and people linger in the room, riding out the wave of a quality night of art and community. Jorja Smith’s “On My Mind” plays in the background as people frantically rush to the center of the room, propelling their bodies into the music.

It’s a frenzy of loud sing-yelling, zealous head-bopping and contagious laughter. This time, I hop in for a moment, allowing myself to get lost in the chorus of the song, swaying to the warmth of Smith’s soulful voice.

As I reflect on that night, it’s moments such as this one that remind me that community knows no bounds. It’s something that transgresses physical space and becomes profoundly inexplicable. {m}aganda’s open mics have been and continue to be some of my favorite college memories because even in the tiny room we’re piled into, it’s always about the art, love and community above all else.

And as I reflect on both experiences, I can’t help but consider all the other ways in which our community continually surpasses physical and geographic boundaries.

It isn’t just the movement of our literal dancing bodies, but also the movements of our people across continents, the movements of our social, political and collective consciousness, the movements of our hxstories, that serve as a testament to the incredible vibrancy and resilience of our people.

I’ve never been much of a dancer myself. Every bit of my clumsy and awkward nature comes out with my flailing arms and ungainly shoulder bops. So, it’s somewhat ironic that dance has unexpectedly become a prominent and recurring theme in my life over the past year. Over the course of my hectic junior year, indak — a Tagalog word that means “to dance in time with the music”has become my yearlong mood.

Amid the chaos of my academic and social life, I have found solace and inspiration in art. Not only has it mobilized my own jumbled musings of cultural introspection and curiosity, but it’s also allowed me to literally and collectively mobilize with other individuals who share my passion for further discovering and appreciating aspects of our culture.

In spaces such as {m}aganda and Pilipinx Cultural Night, I have expanded and enriched my understanding of how complex the Pil identity is, learning to appreciate the nuances and complexity of the Pilipinx experience. More importantly, through these spaces, I have been fortunate to connect with tremendously talented and dedicated individuals. Individuals who are a testament to this notion of indak with their ceaseless efforts to represent, advocate for and uplift the Pilipinx population on this campus.

Because of these cultural and creative spaces, I’ve learned to think in we’s instead of I’s. I’ve learned to appreciate the nuance of the Pilipinx and Pilipinx American experience, slowly and surely ridding myself of my preconceived notions of Pilipinxness. As a second-generation Pilipinx American, I’ve always struggled with rooting myself in a cultural identity that I often felt distant or never “enough” for.

In an attempt to salvage remains of what had always seemed like a broken relationship with my cultural identity, I had created a rigid checklist for what I considered to be an ideal version of Pilipinxness. And up until this year, I consistently found myself falling short of checking all these boxes — never fully claiming myself as a kind of “authentic” Pilipina.

But with each Pilipinx author I read, each {m}aganda meeting I attended and each Isang Bagsak I completed, I was consistently reassured that my Pilipinxness was never a question of being or feeling like I was “enough.” It was truly a matter of being willing to rid myself of my previous misconceptions and fully immerse myself in the love and support of an entire community. And once I allowed myself to do that, these fears of being inadequate slowly dissipated.

I’ll probably always be a bad dancer. And that’s OK. Sweaty hair, flailing arms, awkward hip sways and all, I’ll find a way to make sense of this chaos. I’ll keep moving to the beat of this cruel yet fragile life and, somehow, through all the frustration, anxiety and tears, I’ll find beauty and grace in this constant movement.

I’ll find the strength to dance to the turbulent and everchanging rhythms of life — steadying and pushing myself to keep at this imperfect yet beautiful dance. I’ll find the courage to still keep moving. To still keep swaying. To still keep dancing.

Maddy Malicdem is a third year English major, Political Economy Minor and is currently the Editor-in-Chief for {m}aganda magazine, a Pilipinx American literary arts publication.