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"Ate Hilaria, please give me some advice."
Hilaria pricked up her ears and smiled so deeply at that. "Do you really want some advice?"
"Why is it wrong to have a dream that I want to be a dancer?"
"'Wrong' is not the right expression, more like 'unwise'."
"Are you never allowed to do what you want to create for yourself? What's wrong with that?"
In explaining her point of view, Hilaria was professing her firm conviction, feeling very happy in her spiritual service and thinking that her popularity of the past was nothing compared to it. Nevertheless, she was not able to exorcise her dream from this girl, because a promise in the midst of her own family was still in the air. The conversation grew more heated by the minutes running fast.
"You were dancers, weren't you? Isn't that right?"
"Yeah, me and Jason met there."
"Why do you know the 'Philippine Tinikling Dancers Revue' so well? I saw you guys, didn't I? How the girls adored Kuya Jason at the festival hall."
"Alright, so you want to know? Then come with me."
Hilaria took out two photo albums from the bookshelf and commanded her to sit down. As Hiraya looked at picture after picture, she couldn't help sobbing with overwhelm. With her mouth open, she gawked at this clipped newspaper article with a photo under the headline.
"First prize for the 'F T D R' by the 'Pearl of Dance' and her partner for the best performance at the 'Asian Dance Folklore Festival'."
"That's you and Kuya! You were star dancers in the revue?"
Hilaria remained silent, at this Hiraya saw that she had to fight not to cry.
"It doesn't matter now."
"Why? It was a great period of your lives."
Hiraya frowned, watching every little emotion on Hilaria's face, and concluded that it couldn't be.
"What good is it if a person gains the whole world but loses himself?"
"But Ate Hilaria! I want to dance, not become famous."
"Sure? You won't be able to avoid that. You just read that, didn't you? And if you want to make real money at it, you'll have to be one of the best."
"So, what if I am, I'll be famous."
"Are you clear about your motives?"
"Indeed! Alam ko, ano ang gusto ko!" (I know what I want)
That her motives were questioned did not please the girl. Hiraya got more and more heated up as she felt she had to justify herself. She wouldn't ask for anything sinful after all. She found her right to find a good dance teacher irrefutable, tingling inside her, knowing that without a good job, her dream would once again burst like a soap bubble. For the first time, Hilaria grew restless at this, allowing her self-control to erode.
"At least tell me who could train me. You guys have connections. What dance coach can I go to?"
"A professional dance coach? Do you want to master Tinikling just to let off steam at festivals or to meet your future husband, or do you want to go all that way? Do you even know what it means to move up to the revue? Every schoolchild here knows the simple classical dance somehow, but in the 'Dancers Revue' you can't afford any mistake. Without your whole heart you have already lost before you put your feet between the bars! You are a dreamy child!"
Hiraya wanted to protest, narrowing her eyes and squinting at Hilaria as bitterness rose in her.
"And remember, me you shall not emulate."
"You were - it says so here - the 'Pearl of Dance of Pangasinan.' There were only five female dancers in the country who were awarded 'Pearl'. You were one of the best. And I am not ungrateful!"
"So? I'm thinking of your family. And you?"
Hiraya pressed her lips together. It hurts. Torn between her 'Utang' debt to this family and retaliation against her father, she was now in a trap.
"What does this have to do with dancing? It's my private life. You have no right to make me slide on the knees at my father's house. It's my business. Sorry, Ate Hilaria. You don't understand that."
Hiraya went to her room, sat on the edge of the bed and pouted to herself. She then heard the front door open and someone hurriedly running up the stairs. The knocking brought her abruptly out of her lethargy. Letizia came scurrying cheerfully through the door.
"Tita Hiraya! Shall we go to the garden?"
She couldn't capitulate at the sight of her new friend and took her by the hand.
"What did you do today?"
"Your mother showed me photo albums with pictures of your parents dancing."
"Come with me. I'll show you something even better."
Letizia literally swept Hiraya along with her, completely caught up in enthusiasm. In the living room, she picked out a video film in the CD box and slid it into the slot of the player. Smiling, she looked at Hiraya in place of the movie, which she must have unmistakably seen many times before. After only a few minutes, Hiraya abruptly realized that Jason and Hilaria had really been celebrities in the dance world. Completely fascinated by the absolutely precise steps through the bamboo poles and the synchronously turned pirouettes of the two, this longing broke out again in Hiraya, which was mixed with sadness, because this couple had turned their backs on such fascination and she herself had not even begun to learn how to celebrate such graceful figures. Hilaria had gained weight over the years, but on the video, Hiraya saw a beautiful, slender grace with glossy raven black hair raising her arms in elegance as if entranced, guided by Jason's hands, who, dressed in a silk barong, smiled all the time as the two performed quick hops and spinning steps among the clashing bamboo canes. Hiraya had not noticed that someone was at the front door and continued to stare at the screen.
Hilaria's sharp voice startled them both. Hiraya was about to say something when Hilaria stopped the movie.
"Ate, that's wonderful. Why did you stop?"
"Letizia, I don't want you, without asking me, to show these videos to others anymore."
" Yes, Mom."
Hilaria stopped her speech, took a deep breath and didn't take her eyes off Hiraya, who seemed horrified because she felt sorry for Letizia. Then something happened that astonished her completely. Hilaria went down on her knees and took her daughter's hand.
"Letizia, please forgive me for saying that to you in such an ugly way. Would you be so kind as to leave us alone?"
The child obediently responded and went to the fridge. With a coconut shake, she ran into the garden. Hiraya felt a lump in her throat, dreading another rebuke. Hilaria's fingers caressed this DVD. Apparently, she had to wrestle with words.
"So, you want to finish watching this? You want to get that far? For what?
"You guys were so beautiful, Ate. I'm sorry, of course, even today."
Now Hilaria had to giggle.
" Today I don't fit into this costume."
As Hiraya looked into her eyes so pleadingly sweet, she slid the DVD back into the slot of the player.
"Watch this version."
The girl was completely overwhelmed by the performance shown, a fast composition consisting of four pairs of dancers with six groups of bamboo poles. Hilaria danced with fans in her hands with an utmost elegance. This precision coupled with lightness made her thoughts drift off into a world where it seemed so beautifully peaceful despite the immense mastery a Tinikling dancer had to complete with each movement. At the end of the film, the cameraman had captured the audience's ovation for minutes. Hilaria was obviously bothered by this. Quickly she pressed 'Stop'.
"Yes Hiraya, I loved dancing."
"And now you don't?"
"There is a time to build, a time to tear down, a time to love, a time to catch something and a time to give something up as lost."
"But you want to impose on me that I shouldn't dance just because you have other priorities."
"It's not just about dancing and all this time you need to get that far. Please listen to me. I was 22 years old on this video. We were training six hours a day five times a week. That doesn't sound like much, but for this dance, it's hard! How many times did I jam my ankle. In the evening our feet hurt in spite of bandages. Yes, it was our time. We were young, loved fame and fought to get into the first places at the festivals. But if I had known better back then, my decision would have been different."
"I don't understand you, Ate Hilaria."
"Well, I tell you more. I knew someone, from the 'Fairview Tinikling Angels'. Her name was Belinda. I hated her because she was the best with her nine pirouette doubles. She was always the best until I practiced and trained myself to do that ten-double. Hilarias famous 'ten-double'. Actually, something like that is impossible in 3/4 time, but we managed it. When I got the first prize together with Jason for it, I thought I owned the world. But Hiraya, that's bullshit! And Jason is lucky he can wear pants. If not, you would have seen the scars on his lower left leg by now."
"We danced across them, too..."
"The burning poles."
Hiraya's eyes snapped open, understanding that the Tinikling could indeed become dangerous if someone were to incorporate such a daring idea into the choreography. She already knew about groups performing this dance with burning poles.
"Yes Hiraya, The 'Fire Dance'. Jason slipped away during practice and the guys were too slow to react. His leg was terribly burned. And his knee don´t get been okay anymore since it was happened. He'll never be able to dance ten 'doubles' again.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"In the halls those dances are banned, but outside they still do it in other groups. Ever since that happened with Jason, the revue stopped doing those crap things. At least."
"Did a lot of people get hurt doing it?"
"I didn't. Actually, nothing can happen if you don't falter or slice down, actually..., except for my singed skirts."
Hiraya saw a smirk light up Hilaria's face, but her dismay lasted only a few minutes. Already she was articulating her enthusiasm about her dream again in fiery words. Hilaria seemed to be annoyed. She reached for Hiraya's hand and looked at her. Hiraya watched as she pulled out a large cardboard box from a cabinet. After throwing the lid on the sofa, Hilaria took out this crown decorated with colorful glass stones. Hiraya wanted to back away, but with a lightning-fast movement, Hilaria pressed that thing on her head.
Immediately Hiraya took the crown down. She didn't like what was happening at all.
"I don't have the right to wear the crown of the 'Pearl'."
"Great, isn't it?! I made it. As a reward, I got this thing and the honor of the 'Best female dancer.' The stones aren't even real. That's what this world offers you, and a lot of people tell you how great you are as long as you can give them such illusions."
Hiraya's shaking of her head made Hilaria sad, especially hurt when the girl put the crown back in the box.
"These people who once cheered us don't know me and Jason anymore. People forget, but our Father in Heaven never forgets us if we remain faithful to Him. For a dubious fame, we had risked our health. And what is more important to you? Besides, I disapprove of your unwillingness to reconcile with your father. He was the reason that you´ve been born and loved you, isn't that so? And therefore, you are not ready to become a 'Tinikling' because your heart is so bitter. Never will you keep up that beat precision because you will always be reminded that you have a blockage in your heart. What he did was wrong. But everyone deserves a chance to be forgiven, and who are you to be so unyielding?"
Hiraya stood up, crossed her arms and glared at her. The atmosphere was really crackling now. Pressing her lips together, Hiraya seemed to be eagerly awaiting all the words she was about to get off, so she could strike back at the right moment. But Hilaria had seen through her and was not letting go. One thing Hiraya could not understand. There was a wonderful reason behind this confrontation, namely love.
"You like to take matters into your own hands. Being self-reliant, becoming a famous 'Tinikling' and then running away from problems. That doesn't go together. A 'Tinikling' faces her performance and is not cowering herself."
They hadn't paid attention to the noises in the kitchen and that someone was standing in the doorway. Jason's looks seemed so ready to fight. Leaning in the doorway, he focused Hiraya up and down.
"Bravo, darling. That's exactly how it is. A real 'Tinikling-Star' doesn't cower."
Hiraya looked at him with widened eyes.
"Hilaria! The time has come."
Making prompting signs with his hand, Hiraya had to go after him, outside into the garden.
Staring after the two of them, Hilaria suddenly seemed faciliated, leaving her husband to decide what this girl would be more comfortable with at that moment. Jason retrieved a spade from the tool shed and placed it across from Hiraya's feet. Letizia came out from among the many flowers on the decorative bed, curious to see what was coming next.
"You want a coach?"
Hiraya squinted at him, embarrassed.
"So, you saw what Hilaria and I did long time before?"
She only managed a curt nod, her gaze literally begging Jason to finally tell her what to do.
"Why could we dancers rely on our performance to be without fault?"
"A lot of training, discipline? Precision?"
"That's not all, Hiraya Sinilang! It's the guys and the girls on the poles. If they fail, we dancers will experience a defeat that will make a mockery of us in front of the whole audience. The precision of Tinikling will teach you to celebrate self-mastery in order to became a true artist. Now, let's get started."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Develop love. Deep love for what you want to do!"
Hiraya again didn't understand and looked questioningly into his inflamed eyes, which were full of desire to teach her a lesson.
"Stand up straight, in front of the spade."
She obeyed, looking at the tool lying across the grass in front of her.
"Squat. Legs together, parallel."
Hiraya obediently did what he said.
"Grab the spade. Both hands."
She grabbed the digging tool as instructed.
"Lift it up, stretching your arms as you do so!"
That thing was quite heavy, but Hiraya did that too.
"How many bars was that?"
"Good, the classic is danced in 3/4 time."
"You sure know a lot. Get up from a squat. With the spade, the way you're holding it."
Hiraya stood bolt upright again, arms outstretched holding this tool in her fingers.
"Lift it over your head."
With her arms stretched straight up, she just felt like a bodybuilder.
This bar, the sixth, she performed cleanly.
Hiraya had already realized that he was going to ask for a whole round of these steps.
"Put it down."
Jason obviously liked the way she did it.
After she stood again as she had at the beginning, Jason smiled so profoundly.
"How many bars?"
The girl began to do the sequence again in those nine steps and made no mistake.
"Very good. Now just keep doing it, over and over."
His unmistakable looks made it clear to her that he meant it serious. As she squatted, he helped her with these commands as at the beginning.
"Grab the spade..., pick it up..., hold it forward..., out of the squat..., up..., forward..., squat..., put it down..., up."
Hiraya didn't dare to intervene and reeled off these movements monotonously, on and on. She just didn't understand what the point was.
"Grab the spade..., pick it up..., hold it forward..., from the squat..., up..., forward..., squat..., put it down..., up, stand straight."