Photos by Victor Yu
Sayaw means “dance.”
It’s a word from Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. But for those in the dance community, it’s more than just that. To dance is to breathe, to express yourself.
PUSO, or the Philippine United Student Organization, is a cultural club at Stony Brook University. It consists of three dance teams — PUSO Cultural, PUSO Ballroom, and PUSO Modern — that perform and compete at events both on and off campus year round.
The club hosts the annual PUSO Sayaw, Stony Brook’s largest dance competition.
It draws in the best of the best from across the East Coast to compete and showcase their talent and love for dance. March 3, 2018 marked the 8th annual Sayaw Dance Competition and Showcase in the SAC Auditorium.
In the morning, dancers attended three workshops in the LDS Center. They learned choreography from world-renowned dancers and judges Selene Haro, Isidro Rafael, Joesar Alva, and Haeni Kim.
Judges Selene and Isidro taught a joint workshop at Sayaw. As veterans of the California dance community, they were proud to see a variety of dance styles and described the East Coast as having a unique sense of camaraderie unlike anything they’ve experienced before.
“We’ve taught in the East Coast before, but this is definitely the largest workshop,” Isidro said. “There’s a different sense of community here compared to other parts. We see people supporting each other, clapping for each other in class, and genuinely having a good time.”
Unlike most dance competitions, PUSO Sayaw hosts workshops and its competition on the same day. This is in large part due to the availability of the judges. Normally, dance competitions will teach workshops the day after the event.
Selene commended the dancers for their dedication to taking all three workshops in addition to competing at night. “I’m pretty amazed at how many people there are this early in the morning,” Selene said. “Teams usually will just practice all day on their own until the moment they perform. These dancers are different because they’re creating bonds with other dancers at the workshops and creating a supportive vibe instead of just staying with their own team.”
PUSO’s Modern Co-Director Robert Cho described the atmosphere in the LDS Center. “We may be on different teams, but during workshops we’re not competitors. We’re fellow students in class who motivate and push one another to be the best we can be.”
At night, 19 dance teams performed on the SAC Auditorium stage, three of which were from PUSO. Nine teams competed and 10 showcased.
“PUSO Sayaw is our organization’s most well known event,” Ashley Villmar, president of PUSO said. “We started planning for it during the middle of fall semester and met several times a week to discuss our vision, teams, judges, PR, and more. The SAC Auditorium capacity is 595 seats, and once again we are proud to say that we sold out.”
Dance styles ranged from hip-hop, interpretive and urban to ballroom, cultural, and burlesque. Many of the teams incorporated contemporary, modern, and jazz elements in their sets. Dancers themselves were just as diverse and came from all backgrounds and age groups.
Haeni Kim, 20, is the first international judge at Sayaw and came all the way from South Korea to be at Stony Brook. If her dancing wasn’t already impressive enough, she judged teams with dancers four years older than her.
“I feel really honored to be here because I remember I came to the U.S. six years ago to take classes as a student, and now I’m judging,” Haeni said. “People are more open to different styles here. In Korea, there aren’t many foreigners but in America there are so many different dancers.”
First place was awarded to HeartBreak Crew. Mint Dance Company came in second, and Stuy Legacy, the youngest team which was made up of high schoolers, was third.
PUSO’s mission statement is, “To create a social environment in which Filipino culture is advocated, discussed, and celebrated.” The Sayaw Dance Competition and Showcase is not only a way to celebrate dance, but more importantly, a way to educate people on Filipino culture. A huge, integral part of Filipino culture is, and always will be, dance.
Stony Brook University contains a hidden treasure trove of talented, dedicated dancers. If you look to the Staller Music Balcony, you’ll always see them practicing in front of the mirrors, honing their craft. You can even see groups of them dancing on the pavement near Staller Music or in the LDS Center, sometimes for long hours deep into the night.
Despite their busy academic schedules, Stony Brook dance teams like PUSO Modern make time to dance in hip-hop competitions across the East Coast. Competitions like ELEMENTS, which takes place in the heart of Boston, and Prelude in New Jersey, bring in an audience of over 1,200 people and over 400 competitive dancers.
Despite the university’s decision to suspend the dance minor, dance is still alive and breathing. “A lot of us have a huge passion for dance, and Sayaw is a big example of that,” Alexandria Scala, the head of PUSO Cultural, said. “At Stony Brook, we’re more than just our major, and dance allows us to connect and express ourselves in ways that other things can’t.”
Judge Joesar Alva, who competed on America’s Best Dance Crew with the Boogie Bots, was surprised to learn about the suspension of the dance minor at Stony Brook University. Being a firm advocate of dance, he wanted to reassure students to never let go of what they love most. “It’s important, now more than ever, to keep dancing because it’s an outlet for an already crazy life,” Joesar said. “Never give it up because it connects each and everyone of us. If dance is the reason that you breathe, do it.”
You can watch all the performances at PUSO SAYAW VIII here: