Spotlight: Culture Club

A one-of-a-kind, Seattle-based performance group has been dazzling audiences and fostering Filipino

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A one-of-a-kind, Seattle-based performance group has been dazzling audiences and fostering Filipino community since 1959

Culture Club
Baruso! Pagbalik! Filipino drill commands pepper the air as young women, dressed in vibrant sari skirts, perform a complex dance and combat routine. The girls—from 5 years of age into their early 20s—alternate precision marching, balancing on bamboo poles and slicing handheld bamboo sticks in mock fight sequences. Ankle bracelets jingle. Whistles shriek. Young men beat on percussion instruments, helping to propel the dancers through a constantly shifting, horizontal tic-tac-toe board made of 8-foot-long bamboo poles. It’s a choreographic wonder combining military marching and Singkil, a Filipino royalty dance, featuring swirls of color and flashing feet that leave audiences enraptured.

If you’ve witnessed such a performance during the Seafair Torchlight Parade or the Seattle Center Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival, then you already recognize the work of the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) Drill Team. The Seattle group performs both floor and parade routines at local venues throughout the year, with seamless and spectacular results. But while crowds cheer the FYA Drill Team’s precision and poise, most people don’t realize they’re watching the only Filipino-American drill team in the U.S.

The idea for the group originated with Fred and Dorothy Cordova—second-generation Filipino Americans—who wanted to raise awareness of the Filipino community in Seattle during the 1950s. The couple founded the Filipino Youth Association in 1957, offering sports and activities for Filipino kids, but they still felt the need for community outreach. “During those days, people barely knew Filipinos existed in Seattle,” remembers Fred. In 1959, the Cordovas settled on the idea of a drill team whose public performances could both educate and entertain.

Youth drill teams exist in most American cities, but what sets FYA apart is the incorporation of Filipino heritage, folk dancing and martial arts. “We started from scratch and created our own style without copying anyone else,” says Fred. A former member of the Army Reserve, he taught military-style marching to the first team of 18 girls. Dorothy patterned the girls’ uniforms on a Filipino-Muslim motif. After a few years, a cadre of boys, called the Cumbancheros, was added to provide percussion. “We realized we had to add the gentlemen,” chuckles Fred, “to help the dancers maintain rhythm!” By the time the Cordovas retired in 1985, the team had performed and competed in 135 cities across the U.S. and Canada and had won countless drill team awards.

It was a natural transition for Ron and Lynnette Consego to assume leadership of the FYA Drill Team from the Cordovas. Filipino Americans born and raised in Seattle, they started out on the team at ages 7 and 8. “My husband and I grew up together,” says Lynnette. “It was because of the drill team that we met and eventually married.” Decades later, they’re still attending the weekly four-hour practices, but now they’re the ones handing out snacks and juice boxes. Their youngest grandson, 2-year-old Silas, often marches on the sidelines.

The FYA Drill Team—scheduled for 30 performances in 2010—thrives on its family focus. Membership averages 60 to 70 kids per year, and the rosters read like a family tree, including second- and third-generation members. But children of all ethnicities, backgrounds and abilities are welcome (at one point, the team had a deaf member who received drill commands via sign language).

“The number-one thing we teach is that we are one big, happy family,” says As