Hip Hop Hope

December 23rd, 2012 · No Comments

The recent Hip Hop Competition, dubbed as “World Battleground Supremacy” swept to Sydney shores, rhythmic hopefuls of eight Filipino dance crews ready to do their flips and twirls.  But in the end…it was a leap of faith and the help of real generous souls that got them through.

Of the eight Filipino groups, six of the groups had arranged billeting by families prior to arrival; one group could afford to stay at a backpacker’s hostel; and one group, the Pinoy Hip Hop, landed on a wing and a prayer.

The Pinoy Hip Hop Boys tried to fundraise and approached government agencies such as the National Committee on Culture and Arts and the Presidential Action Centre but were let down. Undeterred by rejection and fuelled by passion they sold, pawned and borrowed to have enough for their airfares and their competition registration fee of $70 per dancer. But their efforts to find accommodation yielded little or no response as departure time drew near and they were faced with a choice of forfeiting their airfares or do or dare, wing it, bahala na!  They opted for the latter.

So they landed in Sydney on 27 November with very little cash and only two contact names –  organizer, Marco ‘Miko’ Selorio and Bless Salonga, a contact given to them by a friend of a friend, but who had no prior knowledge of their arrival.   Since their mobile phones were inoperative, facebook was their way of contact as wi-fi was available at the airport. In the meantime, Bless Salonga was thrown into panic as she tried to contact others who could have helped.  The MPC at Scoffields was suggested but MPC Management required that somebody sign them in and take responsibility for the boys.  After messaging to and fro and waiting for four hours, the boys were instructed to catch the train to Blacktown. Walking almost became an option, but they scraped the little money they had, enough for a bus ride to Burwood, then a train to Blacktown. 

They hovered around Blacktown Station and were befriended by Genevieve, daughter (of Nick) and the niece of James Orlowski who offered to help but was also  quick to claim “exclusive” rights over the group.  Orlowski claimed to be their manager (for a few days at least) but fizzled out when the group refused to sign his proposed contract.   They were taken to Pnoy Basement for dinner while they awaited decisions for sleeping quarters.  The group were inseparable which made it even more difficult to house and transport them. 

But all’s well that ends well. Rose Quinto, a beauty shop owner in Blacktown who happened to walk in to pick her food order offered her Beauty Salon but later moved them to her house and adopted them for the entire duration of their stay. They have since been doing the rounds at  Christmas parties passing the hats around. However, the other groups also did the hat thing.

Aged in the early twenties, the Pinoy Hip Hop group include: Michael Vincent Llanita, Arvin Armada, Jonathan Frias, Ekkor Fadriquela, Gilbert Utina, Gery Lobos, Kenneth Garceniego, John Malcolm Salazar and one is from Cavite and the rest are from Antipolo.  Asked why they dared to do it, they reply: “Dream po kasi namin.”  With almost weepy eyes they speak of their tale and how they thought they might be able to help their parents.  Only one is still in College, while the rest have completed high school.  They were traditionally respectful, always careful not to overstep their welcome and not to abuse the generosity extended but ever so naïve. Their strong faith was reflected in their responses: “Alam po naming, hindi po Niya kami pababayaan.” (We know He (God) will not abandon us.)

The Pinoy Hip Hop Group landed on a wing and a prayer and came third place.
(Photos by Jade Cadelina).

Despite not having had any formal dance training, yes, they can dance and were starting to gain a reputation in the Philippines.  They have progressed from Baranggay dance comps, to Metro Manila events to dance fests in provincial capitals. They won the Eat Bulaga dance competition in 2008.  To the boys, the word “international” was simply the next step up and they believed that such a title would open doors for them.  They came third in the competition, a place that brought only medals, perceived prestige but no cash price.

Dance competition organizer Miko Selorio volunteered to be interviewed and said that it was made clear in the email/letter that “we were not responsible and they had to find their own accommodation.” “I could not be seen as favouring one group from the others and the boys had to find their own places to stay,” he added. He also said “but if you’re in trouble let me know.”  Selorio also saw them at the Pnoy Basement on the night of arrival and has also seen them for a photo shoot at the Philippine Consulate. No other offer of help has been extended.

However, email trails show Selorio was asking around for possible volunteers to house dance competitors although it was not clear which group.  When asked, Selorio replied, “I can’t remember which group I had in mind when I did that.”

One group sponsor alleged that Selorio had organized a benefit show for the 4th placer and not for the others.  This would be contradictory to his statement of not showing favoritism. Another source also said that the Open Division did not have enough countries to warrant it to be called international. So when they say that Filipinos did a clean sweep of the top 4 places, it meant that they won against the other 4 Filipino groups, the interstate groups and a few selected countries. 

One joins competitions to grow and of course for the prize.  The prestige attached to the word “international”, the contacts and experience one gets from the entire exercise should somehow  justify the cost and effort of the competitors.  Dance workshops were offered but it meant additional costs and therefore abandoned. Mainstream media were not even there to cover it.  A press conference was arranged at Sizzling Fillo and only featured the Filipino groups.  And most importantly, only the first prize winner got a cash prize of A$3,000 which would not even recoup airfares.  The other place winners just got medals which could not even be pawned for cash.  

Hip Hop International is an international dance competition originally started in 2002 by Karen and Howard Schwartz.  It has 56 country affiliates, which shows “Groove TV” as the affiliate for  Australia and the battles are usually held in Las Vegas or New York.

The Pinoy Hip Hop Boys’ story, although sad is not unique. Their dream is also no different from any other individual with a dream – wanting to compete in any event, interstate or overseas.  The parents of the children go through agonizing times too, to send their children to camp or comp but go through the proper fundraising processes to ensure they land right.  Filipinos somehow have magical thinking and tend to leave it to the powers above and just hope for the best.

This is not the first time the first time it has happened.  There are so many stories but I shall save them for next time.

Perhaps, it’ll serve as a lesson to all parties concerned. Organizers bringing them here should provide them with more information or help organize billeting prior to arrival rather than dumping the burden on a community.  Interestingly,  Selorio has just announced on Facebook that he is hoping to bring Filipino Australians to the Philippines next year. Maybe it’ll be easier to find families to house them there.


Tags: Grey Matter