The only feeling more amazing than fulfilling your dreams, is doing so alongside people you know and love with the same dreams too.
For a streetdancer like myself, one of the biggest privileges and honors there is, is being able to represent the country in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships of Hip Hop International (HHI) in San Diego, California, USA. HHI is like Wimbledon, or like the NBA– it's the big league of street dance. Coming from a country such as the Philippines—so far from the US, and yet bursting with so much talent in the field—the likelihood of ever being able to step on the Worlds stage seems so miniscule. I found out soon enough though, that what it really takes is hard work and dedication, and a lot of heart and faith.
Up until a couple of months ago, I never imagined I could be one of the few lucky ones who would represent the country in such a prestigious competition. But as fate would later decide for me, I found myself , well, blessed. Blessed to have been given the opportunity, blessed to have competed with a fantastic set of people, blessed to have loving families supporting us. I supposed there's no better word to describe the team and the experience, proven numerous times throughout our journey— blessed was exactly what we were.
Quick background about HHI: there are four divisions—Junior (eight members, 13 years old and below), Varsity (eight members, 18 years old and below), Adult (eight members, 18 years old and above), and Megacrew (16-40 members in the group). The Philippines sends three competitors per division against the entries of 30 plus other countries. To qualify there were elimination rounds in the Philippines last April.
I competed with a team called Legit Status. It's composed of students from different schools across Metro Manila, some high school, some college and few young professionals. It was founded by our coach, Vimi Rivera, back in 2009 and every year since then, the team has competed in the Varsity division. They would consistently make it to semis or finals, but in general the Philippine delegation in the Varsity division had never placed before. They also competed in Megacrew twice but never made it far, either.
I joined the team this year, as they were also preparing for the Nationals last April 2015. Legit Status was competing in both the Varsity division and Megacrew division. We knew this year was special because the team had been competing for six years already, so there was no way we would allow ourselves the same fate anymore. At the same time, those who were members before me, had been training since September 2014. Almost a year's worth of heavy conditioning, improving technique, practicing performance, and polishing the movements— all for four minutes on the Nationals stage at the chance at representing the country in front of the whole world. So many people doubted Legit Status. They said that we probably wouldn't make it, that we were weaker than other teams, that since our team was mostly composed of less than 20-year-olds, we still weren't strong enough. But we were out to prove everyone wrong.
And so came Nationals. Blessing #1: our Varsity team was crowned champions. Our Megacrew team on the other hand, settled at fourth place—the scores were tallied and there was no contesting. But it was announced that since the champions of the division, A Team, were defending champions of HHI, the Philippines could have four teams compete for Megacrew. Blessing #2: We were through to San Diego. We were going to Worlds.
As elated as we were to know we were among the best of the best in the Philippines, there were so many things that needed preparation before we could prove that we were the best in the world. First of all, there was the issue of money. Our entire team composed of the Varsity and Megacrew tallied up to around 45 people. How were we going to raise enough money to live in the States for more than a week? How about expenses for food and transpo? Individual airfare was also incredibly expensive. Then there was the problem of getting US visas. Our members had to arrange for their interviews, and there was also the threat of getting denied.
More than these things, we had trainings every night, and we were constantly changing our piece to make it better—cleaning it and perfecting it. The road to San Diego was not at all a walk in the park.
After three months of fundraisers, including two successful dance concerts, and with the help of our loving and helpful parents came blessing #3: we had booked our hotel rooms, settled our transportation arrangements, and raised the money enough for all of us for the trip. Meanwhile, after some members' visas were denied, but other members returned in replacement and although and there was a scare of expired passports, the team was still able to pull through. Blessing #4: we were complete, and ready to fly.
The actual San Diego experience was out of this world. We were a group of crazy people, in a whole new environment— the air was different, the weather was different, there all these new sights and sounds. We were all so excited to explore. We lived in a huge house for the first few days, where we trained in the mornings and evenings, but in the afternoons we got to go around and tour the places. Blessing #5 was definitely this— we were able to take photos as remembrance, buy souvenirs at the outlet shops, taste the foreign delicacies. But more importantly that we were able to really bond as a team.
Then came the week of competition. Being among the best of the world was unimaginably intimidating. Back at home, we would watch Youtube videos of these dancers— and then here they were before our eyes. There were so many friendly people though (and many Filipinos from all over the world, too). But the Philippine delegation was strong and supportive, even the other crews in Varsity and Megacrew. It was surreal standing among the crowd as they all chanted "Pinooooy!" and "Filipino! Filipino!" Everyone recognized our country as a real competitor. We were definitely going to make our name known.
What was even more surreal, was actually being on stage for the first round. From about 60 competitors, we were going to be cut to half for the semifinals. Our run wasn't the smoothest though, as one of our members, Patrick (just 17 years old but with dance maturity well beyond his years), experienced a major fall from a stunt. He was badly wounded, and still recovering from a prior injury the day before too. We were all worried that he wouldn't be able to perform anymore. But that was blessing #6: Patrick was alright. And beyond anything we could have imagined came blessing #7 and blessing #8: Our Megacrew team was 6th in the world (coming from a run far from our best, at that) and our Varsity team made HHI history— they emerged first in the preliminary round.
Round two was not gonna be any easier, and all the other teams leveled up— some teams switched up their routines, others came out much stronger and cleaner. But we weren't just gonna stand there and let that happen. We continued to train and push.
And again, no one could believe blessing #9 and blessing #10: the Megacrew team remained at 6th place and was going through to finals, and again by God's grace, the Varsity team remained at the number one spot, beating all other teams from all over the world at their division, even surpassing the defending Champions. It seemed all too good to be true, but this was all part of our achieving our goal. It was incredible to be where we were but we couldn't settle, especially that the Finals, the last step in proving Legit Status the best in the whole world, was just around the corner.
THE FINAL ROUND
Imagine after dancing the routine five times— regionals and nationals in the Philippines, and then prelims and semis— there was one more performance, the last four minutes. Coach Vimi said we had to give the performance of a lifetime, give the best performance we could ever give, like nothing we've ever done before. We knew this was the most important dance we could ever give, and we shouldn't let fear or nervousness stop us from achieving our goal.
The stage was set and we performed one last time. I'd like to think that final performance was our best run— hearing the audience cheer, feeling this invisible electricity flow through me and my teammates, knowing that we were all on the same page. We all had the same goal: reintroduce who we are and let everyone know what Legit Status is all about, show everyone that this is a Championship performance. All our hearts poured out on the stage, giving it everything we had, no power or strength would be left over after. And that's what we did— a 45-man strong force convulsing from the stage to the end of the arena, an explosion of love from within the team— love for what we do, love for everyone back home, love for one another and love for God, for whom we danced who gave us everything we had.
It was an unbelievable performance. Blessing #11: our Varsity team bagged the silver medal. We weren't disappointed though that they weren't number one. We brought back the name, we still made history as the first Philippine team to podium finish in that division.
We touched hearts, we represented and we fought hard— that's blessing #12. The Megacrew team wasn't able to place but we ended rank 5, and we couldn't deny our almost-perfect run. Maybe we lacked something others had, maybe we weren't what the judges were looking for, maybe there was room for improvement. Maybe it didn't matter in the end that we didn't have a medal. Because we did what we came to do— we reminded people that we were a force to be reckoned with. We made it to finals beyond everyone's expectations. People remembered our piece for its ingenious choreography and variety, they remembered our highlights and our dancers. They knew Legit Status. They could never forget us, after what we showed.
My entire team pinky swore (turned index finger swear, to symbolize number one) that no one would let go. And no one did. I suppose that's what makes blessing #13— this entire experience. We started from the bottom and climbed our way to the top, through His guidance, through our diligence in training, through our support of one another and the people around us. We emerged better dancers, but more importantly a stronger team. I feel personally blessed that I got to share the stage with people of different stories, different backgrounds, all united in our passion. We started out as strangers all, but we grew as a family. I feel blessed that we were able to perform for our country, that people back at home would watch us on Youtube or on livestreams and feel inspired to dance and feel proud to call themselves Filipinos because we showed the world how talented Filipinos are. I feel blessed that we got to experience a whole different country and meet new people—a chance we earned because we never stopped doing what we loved, because we pushed to achieve our goals and we never stopped believing.
It has been a blessing, and we thank God, and the whole Philippine dance community. With constant training and a lot more faith, Filipinos are able to continue pursuing their passion. And the Worlds stage is always calling for the next group to discover this amazing adventure.