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Fiestang brings Filipino culture and dance to ND for 17th year

Jordan Gamble | Friday, February 25, 2011

Under the tinfoil-armadillo ceiling of Stepan Center, half a dozen students laid down several giant bamboo sticks in neat rows, cranked up music and started practicing their routine, a combination of hip-hop dance integrated with traditional Filipino choreography on Tuesday night.

This hip-hop-infused version of Tinikling, the Phillipines’ national dance, is just one act of many in Saturday’s Fiestang Filipino, the Filipino American Student Organization’s (FASO) annual celebration of Filipino culture.

FASO is the oldest ethnic club on campus.

“A lot of tradition goes into what we do,” Alexa Arastoo, a junior and one of Fiestang’s co-commissioners, said. She and Randall Ang, also a junior, handle directing and producing duties.

The core group of organizers starts planning the show’s thematic elements as early as the summer. This year’s theme is “Kwento,” or story.

“We’re telling the Filipino creation story … presenting it to people who have never heard of it,” Ang said.

After a traditional Filipino dinner at 6 p.m., the performers take the stage for 24 different acts, a mix of songs, traditional dances and modern interpretations.

About 30 Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students are dues-paying members of FASO, but the organization’s reach is much wider than the two campuses. Arastoo and Ang said they keep in contact with the Filipino-American Association of Michiana (FAAM) all year in order to reach out the greater South Bend community, which has been an invaluable resource.

“People from South Bend are very knowledgeable about Filipino culture and in touch with their heritage,” Arastoo said.

FASO used to advertise Fiestang at Sari Sari, a Filipino grocery store in Mishawaka, but that building was destroyed in a fire in April 2010. Randall and Arastoo said that though they’ve lost their outlet, they still feel they’ve kept up their tradition of bringing in the larger Filipino community. About half of acts in this year’s show come from non-student performers.

The other half of the acts — 11 dances and one song in Tagalog, the language of the Phillipines — are performed by a mix of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students that come from all ethnic backgrounds. The Asian American Association (AAA) joins in, as do performance groups Project Fresh and Step ND.

Only one student had ever performed the traditional dances, so for the rest of the student performers, Filipino and non-Filipino alike, it was a learning experience.

“All of our club learned more about Filipino culture here than they did before, especially the dancing,” Arastoo said. Eating Filipino food at home is one thing, she explained, but learning the traditional dances is more difficult for those students who don’t live in larger cities like Chicago, which have larger Filipino populations.

“Lots of kids don’t have access to that kind of cultural depth,” Arastoo said.

The Fiestang participants pass down the choreography year by year to a new generation of performers.

“We learn the choreography but also what it means,” Ang said.

Now in its 17th year, Fiestang long ago outgrew South Dining Hall, then LaFortune Student Center, and now with more than 300 guests and a dinner-theater style set up, it fills up Stepan Center.

Ang said they expect about 400 people to turn out for the show, including students, their families, people from the larger South Bend-Mishawaka community and high school seniors visiting as part of the Spring Visitation program through Undergraduate Admissions.

Proceeds from the event go to Madre de Amor, the first hospice program started in the Phillipines.

What: Fiestang Filipino

Where: Stepan Center

When: Saturday, Feb. 26, dinner at 6 p.m., show begins at 7 p.m.

How much: $8 in advance at the Lafortune Box Office, $10 at the door

Learn more: nd.edu/~faso