Aklanons surely know how to party! And they do it nightly around the streets bounding this Visayan capital’s plaza fronting the church in the run up to the festivities of the Ati-atihan that is celebrated every third Sunday of January. And yes, I was witness to this enjoyable and exuberant revelry as I made a mad dash from Cebu to Makati via Mindoro while finding time to spend a night in Kalibo, Aklan*.
The plaza is all teeming with people from all walks of life: sitting on the grass covered portions, at the main stage, filling the benches and steps near the monuments or occupying the tables neatly laid out at one corner where people can have barbecue and a round of beer at the same time listen to a band playing. From here they spill to the street gawking or, better yet, join in the impromptu street dancing.
And oh, what a parade of sorts! Its not your usual formal and crisply uniformed musicians headed by some prettied majorettes but a motley crew of casually dressed high school band members led by a man with a banner emblazoned with the groups’ tribe name or logo. During the night I was there, 5 groups were playing at the same time at different parts of the streets and followed with revelers circling a couple of times then trail off to a side street. As one band finish, another just pops in and the streetdancing just continues. This can go on until midnight.
Crowds start with a few individuals joining in and in a few minutes, could number around 20 – 30. After a few meters, it swells to more than a hundred. Revelers just drop in and out.
One thing that really got my attention was how these revelers do their dance. To the beat of popular tunes, the group starts by huddling close together in an army like fashion: disciplined and always maintaining that close compact huddle. The dance consists of light, small stomping of the feet, just like marching with matching body movements and short hand and arm swaying. But what’s peculiar about these movements is that its very calibrated. The people are so mindful of not hitting another and not breaking the compressed formation.
The sways and movements also jive with the beat of the music. As the tempo gathers speed, so are the movements. As it slows down, so are the steps.
As the group increases in size and advances through the streets, spaces are formed between revelers and at the right tempo, some dancers just break out into a more spirited dance while the rest still maintain their close huddle.
As the night wears on, men, on a drunken stupor, pose for the camera, offer you drinks either a can of beer or a sip from their bottle. They go into a wild dance and antics to much amusement of the onlookers. Some just join in on the fun.
The pre Ati-atihan revelry in Kalibo is nothing short of exuberant. It is fantastic! Not in a way that is very extravagant and coordinated but the simpleness and spontaneity makes it all the more special. People from all walks of life, from different standings in society just mix, dance and have the time of their life to their hearts’ content.
*I did the Luzon – Visayas loop by land and sea and will be featured in an upcoming series in this blog.
NOTE: Check out the rest of the articles of this series at theLOOP.