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The dancemaker

When bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog – 26 years old, from Parañaque City – was told he couldn’t dance, he persevered and eventually formed his own dance group. More than a passion, dancing helped him finance his family’s needs. He now says that “if you really want to dance, even if you’re LGBT, you can – and should – dance.”

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“For me, even if you’re an LGBTQIA person, you can also dance if you really want to dance. And you can do any genres – ballet, jazz, street dance… There’s no dance that is just for LGBTQIA people. Whoever you may be, whatever you may be, if dancing is your passion, you can dance. Everyone’s equal when dancing. Any genre is accessible for people who want to dance no matter the level of their talent so long as they have the passion.”

So said bi-identifying Lee Magdaraog, 26 years old, a dancer cum choreographer with his own dance group in Parañaque City.

Lee Magdaraog thinks that “it’s also easy for (my family) to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee was in sixth grade when he knew he “may be bakla (gay).” “But I hid this from everyone because I didn’t want to be bullied. I was also afraid to come out because of discrimination,” he recalled. The realization came “when I started getting attracted to other men, but I was ashamed to show it.”

Fortunately for Lee, “my family accepted me; I have another sibling who’s gay. I also know that they’ll accept me whoever/whatever I may be.”

Lee also thinks that “it’s also easy for them to accept me because I didn’t change just because I am part of the LGBTQIA community. I also don’t step on others for them to be critical of me.”

Lee eventually identified as bi.

He discovered dancing unintentionally”.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really like dancing. I liked singing then. But one person made me try dancing, so I did. There was one problem: I wasn’t very good at it. But it still inspired me, it motivated me. It feels good to dance,” he said.

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And then there was one person who belittled Lee, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way. My goal was to become a dancer; it was my dream and I believed I can attain this dream.”

Eventually, he founded his own dance group.

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better so that they can still fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Their dance group has approximately 100 members, divided into five sub-groups. He oversees them all, even if they are – in a way – autonomous. “Dumarating sa punto na nag-lalaban-laban kami (There are times we battle each other),” he said, “pero lagi ko sinasabi sa kanila na kahit ano pa ang desisyon ng judges, hindi kami kalaban. I-enjoy lang nila ang pagsasayaw (but I always tell them that whatever the judges’ decision may be, we’re not really competitors. So better to just enjoy the dancing).”

His dance group does different dances – e.g. jazz, modern dance, hip hop, fire dance and poi dance. “We try everything, believing that if we can, we should do all dances.”

“The members of my dance group came from other dance groups. They are like me, who were also belittled. I became the person who adopts those who are down, and then build them up to be better.”

Dancing, said Lee, isn’t cheap.

“To be good at dancing, we join workshops given by good choreographers from all over the Philippines and even globally. This gives us knowledge about dancing,” he said. “By joining these workshops, we are also able to share the knowledge to those who can’t afford to pay to attend these same workshops.”

Lee spends from P150 to over P1,000 to attend a workshop, depending on what the workshop is for, and who is giving the workshop.

Lee’s dance group also gives “street dancing” a literal meaning – i.e. they often rehearse on the streets.

“It’s challenging for us to rehearse on the streets because we can’t control what happens there. Like when it rains, we don’t know where to rehearse. Or sometimes, there’s no proper lighting. We do everything in the dark, just as long as we can rehearse,” he said. “Other dance groups have dance studios, where they can see all the dance moves. But for us, we just have to be meticulous when checking the moves of every member. And because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

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For Lee, while dancing can be challenging, some can make a living from it. “If you’re serious about it, you can earn from this,” he said. “Using your talent, you can earn from this. Like when doing fire dancing, which is in demand particularly during summer. Or poi dancing. Or doing backup dance in corporate events. You can definitely make a living from dancing. But you also have to invest in it.”

In his case in particular, because of dancing, “I’ve been able to help send my siblings to school. I’ve helped in buying my father’s medicines. I also give money for expenses at home. I may not be giving money regularly, but when I have earnings, I try to help out.”

There was one person who belittled Lee Magdaraog, “telling me I can’t do what they can do,” he said. “So I kept trying, believing that I will be able to face any struggle that comes my way.”
“Because we rehearse on the streets, there are times when we are asked to leave because we’re supposedly too noisy or too crowded. But we still dance because this is our passion.”

Lee’s message to LGBTQIA people who want to dance: “It really feels good to dance. There will be lots of difficulties. Because when you dance, you won’t immediately be on top. You have to go through steps, through levels. But if you really want this, if you’re really serious about this, you can attain your dream to be a dancer.”

But aligned with his teaching that dancing is for everyone, he said that “I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change. The young should learn about respect, and dancing, can teach this, along with discipline and nurturing of dreams.”

To people who continue bashing the LGBTQIA community, “I pray for you,” Lee said. “I’m even thankful to you. You challenge/inspire us to do better and succeed in life.”

“I want the young (no matter their SOGIE) to be inspired; instead of just getting addicted to drugs, instead of becoming bums… they should dance, which can help them change.”

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