SAMBALILO February 1 – 28

February 1 – 28

MY FIRST encounter with Parañaque’s famous Sambalilo dancers was in 1996, when pop demi-god Michael Jackson came to Manila for a one-night concert.

Since the much-publicized performance was held in the reclaimed area on the Coastal Road in Parañaque, Jackson was given a festive welcome at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) by a troupe of dancers wearing lively costumes and brightly colored hats.

The dancers also performed at the lobby grounds of the Manila Hotel, where the pop superstar was billeted.

It was the first public appearance of the Sambalilo dancers after Parañaque Mayor Joey Marquez introduced them late that year in the "Araw ng Palanyag" celebration.

Today, the Sambalilo has evolved into an annual cultural activity participated in by groups of dancers who inventively don hats in different shapes, colors and fashion.

The term Sambalilo originated from the Spanish word "sombrero," which means hat. It really signifies the costume of hardworking Parañaqueños during the era of salt-making, when they would don large hats to shield them from the sun as they worked on the salt beds.

"It is also one way of promoting Parañaqueñas of the National Capital Region and the city as a Philippine tourist destination," Marquez explained.

"After I saw the ‘Sinulog’ dancers performing on the streets in their colorful costumes, I told myself we should have something like that in Parañaque," Marquez said. "Since the Sambalilo was there, I thought of turning it into an annual festival and making it into a contest with groups of dancers."

Grand event
Marquez is particularly proud about the Sambalilo Festival because it’s a grand event that marks the city’s celebration of a historical event in style.

In the past, the Sambalilo Festival was participated in by groups composed of employees in the city offices and residents of the 16 barangays in Parañaque.

This year, however, the 4th Sambalilo Festival extended the invitation to other cities and municipalities. It was the culminating activity of the week-long celebration of Parañaque’s third cityhood anniversary. Other activities included an on-the-spot painting contest, an inter-barangay dance mania and the Binibining Parañaque beauty pageant.

The program last Sunday, Feb. 18, held at the open-air grounds of Casino Filipino, featured 24 competing groups, divided into three categories. Each group did its own interpretation of a standard, eight-minute piece. The champion in each division also brought home a cash prize.

The open category had groups from Makati, Pasig, Taguig and Caloocan, with Makati romping off with the top cash purse of P200,000.

The elementary division had four entries from the primary schools in the city led by eventual champion Baclaran Elementary School Central, that came home richer by P50,000. The others represented 14 of the 16 barangays in Parañaque. Dongalo copped the grand prize of P100,000 here.

The dance competition kicked off with a grand parade from Kabihasnan all the way to the parking lot of Casino Filipino. The groups donned their colorful costumes and attractive hats, while dancing and marching to the beat of the drums.

It was not May, which is the traditional month for town fiestas. But the Sambalilo festival brought about a festive atmosphere not only among Parañaque residents, but also its guests from the other cities and municipalities.

The Sambalilo dance competition is not only a showcase of beautiful hats and colorful costumes. It is also a veritable display of terpsichorean skills and other talents of the participants.

It was a sight to behold when the dancers did backflips, cartwheels and bamboo splits.

Some groups should also displayed innovative props such as bamboo torches, flags and horns.

Although the contest motif was Filipiniana, the standard music was a medley of upbeat hits by top artists such as Ricky Martin and Lisa, Lisa and the Cult Jam.

The Pasig City group was dressed in Caribbean-inspired attire, complemented by native buri hats impressively adorned with colorful boa feathers, straw, sticks and aluminum foil.

The Taguig dancers were innovative in their red-white-blue-and-yellow body paints to accentuate their hats made of straw.

The Makati group gyrated onstage in their native costumes -- multi-colored ternos for the ladies and barong tagalog for the guys. Their sambalilo was a glittering headdress of colorful tulle adorned with mini-hats. They also carried a giant salakot onstage, which should have given them a special prize for their effort.

Caloocan City opted to go environmental by decorating their sambalilo with plants, flowers and stems.

The barangay entries, meanwhile, were not easily upstaged. The troupe from San Martin de Porres impressed audiences with its dancers wearing Las Vegas-inspired costumes in bright fuschia and purple.

Barangay Vitales took on the underwater concept and barangay Tambo adopted the Moro-Moro fashion.

No one was more amused at the dancers than perhaps Mayor Marquez, who sat on the podium fronting the stage, beside the winners of the Binibining Parañaque pageant.

The 150-member Tangub City dancers, grand prize winners in Cebu City’s "Sinulog" festival last month, was the guest performers in the Sambalilo event.

Actress Alma Moreno, Mayor Marquez’s spouse, delighted the crowd with her dance number with The Kitkats, to the tune of the Sambalilo theme. The group regularly performs at Another World Resto-Bar and has also staged well-received shows in various provinces.

Alma’s graceful moves and sexy grooves reminded the crowd of her glorious tanga-clad dancing days on TV’s "Loveli-Ness," the musical variety show she hosted in the ‘80s.

The Sambalilo Festival was undoubtedly a huge success, so that Mayor Marquez, this early, is reportedly thinking of an even bigger and better event next year.

Clearly, the festival adheres to Marquez’s vision for Parañaque as a progressive community. It is also a strong motivation for the residents’ common efforts towards unity, cooperation and understanding.