Cultura Philippines Brings Together Traditional Dance, History And Culture In Upcoming Events 

Local dance group Cultura Philippines will showcase traditional folk dance from the Philippines and modern music from Filipino American artists at two upcoming events. The shows occur in conjunction with Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month — an annual celebration of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

The first chance to see the group is Saturday, May 13, at 3 p.m., at the inaugural International Food Truck Festival on Louisville Waterfront’s Big Four Lawn and Spring Gardens at Big Four Bridge (1101 River Rd.). Here, you can also enjoy cuisine from several local food trucks, along with a variety of beverages, and performances from across the globe. The full festival lasts from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. 

Next up is the Beechmont Taste of Asia Block Party (300 West Woodlawn Ave.) on the following weekend, May 20 at 5 p.m. The full street party — with food trucks, live music and vendors — lasts from 4-9 p.m. 

Cultura Philippines was formed to pass on traditional dances, share history, culture and connections.Tomas Apollo Bacala, the team leader of Cultura Philippines in royal garb.

“Historically, there was a Filipino American dance group in the past glory days of [Louisville’s] Heritage Weekends during the ‘70s – ‘80s,” said Cultura Philippines artistic director Tomas Apollo Bacala in an email. He was a  member of the group, and explained that it “disbanded due to life changes like moving, work, graduations and school.”. 

He added, “Louisville and Southern Indiana has a Filipino American community, with social and medical organizations that promote cultural presentations and provide scholarships to students in need, and health missions and awareness.”

The new group formed in 2021; its first performance was the same year during Louisville’s annual WorldFest, an outdoor festival showcasing food, vendors and entertainment from a variety of cultures. 

“Cultura Philippines was organized to revive our culture through dance and music. Note that the Philippines has always participated and represented [its culture] since the first WorldFest via the Parade of Cultures,” Bacala wrote. “We are a small group of about 25; lessons are free, but dancers cover costume and material costs.”

Cultura Philippines’ performances combine both modern and traditional music and dance drawn from Filipino culture. The upcoming shows will include songs from artists previously showcased in the company’s “Diaspora” series.

“Our ‘Diaspora’ series pays tribute to international artists of Filipino heritage,” said Bacala in an email. “They are ones people hear about, not realizing their rich Philippine historical background.” Artists whose music is choreographed in this series include Bruno Mars, Nicole Scherzinger, and Enrique Iglesias.

Traditional dances that will be performed in the upcoming shows include Waray Waray, Malong-malong, Subli, Tinikling, and Bulaklakan.

While the lessons are free, performers volunteer their time and commit to group practices. The gatherings ensure everyone has time to practice the dances, while also offering members a chance to enjoy Filipino food and culture. 

Some of the dances call for traditional costumes and fans.

“Food is part of Filipino hospitality,” said Sheryll Impellizzeri, who hosts several of the group’s practice sessions and has performed in some of the pieces. “We’re expanding that kind of hospitality to the next generation. People who were not born in the Philippines, or maybe those who were adopted, we’re extending that to the culture. You’re sharing the culture in the fullest expression — which is the food. It’s the Filipino language. I don’t think I have ever gone into a Filipino home and ever left hungry.”

Impellizzeri began dancing as a child, when she arrived in the U.S. with her aunt. 

“It was a different generation back then. Now, it’s more of a mix. It’s noisy, the kids are running around … it’s just how it was when I started dancing. Before, it was exclusively Filipino events. Now, we are reaching out more to the international community, which we haven’t done in the past. Now we do WorldFest, we’re in love with Crane House, and we do performances with the library as part of their cultural programming.” 

Trista Eady is among the group’s members who come from outside the Filipino community. She joined the group in the past year and since then, she has participated in four performances. 

“Tom [Bacala] was doing free lessons at the St. Matthews library,” she said. “It transitioned into me participating in the performances. I have met a lot of new people and learned about a whole new culture different from my own. It’s also helped me to maintain my activity level, and it is a good form of artistic expression.”

Impellizzeri recalls the initial influx of Filipinos to Louisville. 

“The first wave of Filipino Americans were here in the ‘60s. As long as you had a college degree, you could come here and work as a professional. Most of the parents were doctors or nurses. The families came here many ways; many had a parent in the medical community,” said Impellizzeri. “Most of the houses were small. We would practice on the front lawn in sneakers. Only so many Filipino families came here — mostly in health care. Mostly, the families wanted to hang out together and continue the culture for themselves. Now, we have expanded to the community. A lot of us now are involved in interracial relationships, and one of our members was adopted and didn’t have a Filipino mom and dad; we’re pretty inclusive in that way now.” 

Before every dance, there is a narrative describing its meaning. This is delivered by Dot King, the group’s narrator, who also helps to create costumes and volunteers her time in various aspects of stage management.

“For me, being Filipino, many people are not associated with who the Filipinos are, and what being Filipino in Louisville means,” she said during a recent interview. “Many more Filipino Americans are trying to be more visible, and be a part of the community. It’s cool how all of us are connected; our family members have all hung out and known each other for years. It’s cool to reconnect and rebuild our own family. We’re interconnected, and able to pick right back up.”

“We’re creating this new generation for our community, and we’re doing it through dance,” said Impellizzeri.

As for the newest generation of Filipino Americans in Louisville, young dancer Annabelle Treese summed it up best in a recently recorded video interview.

“Being a part of Cultura Philippines … means that I can connect to my heritage with other people…I really like that dancing can be an outlet for my energy because, as my mom and dad are always saying, I am hyper,” she said. “And I think they’re also happy about it.”