The Sinulog celebrations, especially the Grand Mardi Gras, have produced many greats – floats, higantes, drum and bugle corps, dancers and choreographers. And among these greats is award-winning choreographer Myche Gonzales of Southwestern University.
Born Melquiades Gonzales, Jr., Myche as his friends and students fondly call him, led the SWU dancers to 20 straight wins in the 20 years that they participated in the Sinulog Parade. And out of these 20 wins, SWU won as grand champions 10 times!
What’s the secret to winning? Read on.
Where it all started:
Coming from a religious family, 70-year-old Myche was a frequent visitor of the Basilica del Santo Niño. There he got his first Sinulog dancing lessons.
“I was already dancing the Sinulog since I was small. I learned the dance by watching the candle vendors at Basilica,” he recalled.
And, while teaching Physical Education at SWU, Myche also taught the Sinulog steps to his students when the university was tapped to be one of the participants of the very first Sinulog parade organizer by former Customs Commissioner David Odilao in 1980.
Myche recalls that while the Sinulog grand parade is now the number one crowd drawer of the celebration once had to struggle for the acceptance of the Cebuanos.
“People were laughing at us when we first staged a Sinulog Parade. According to them, we were a bunch of crazy people dancing in the streets. It took a Leyteño to create a festival for the Cebuanos,” he said.
But the participants of the very first Sinulog parade, which consisted of dancers from five schools in the city preserved and, after three years, the Sinulog became synonymous to Cebu.
Secrets Steps of Winning:
For 20 years since the start of the Sinulog grand parade, Myche and the SWU dancers were among the crowd favorites in the Sinulog-based category. Being a 10-time grand champion also earned them the Hall of Fame Award.
However, Myche said that there is really nothing fancy about their way of dancing the Sinulog and that there are no secrets to their winnings.
“There is really no secret to our winnings. Ang akong Sinulog simple lang. The very theme is respect for the Santo Niño,” said Myche, who has retired from teaching and from dancing for two years now.
He said that in all the years that they joined the parade, the steps have never changed only the formation. Myche does not also choose participants. Students, alumni, faculty and anybody at SWU who want to be part of the university’s contingent to the parade are welcome to join.
“Everybody is welcome. Even those who do not know how to dance! There are even former students who have long left the country who write to me months before the Sinulog to signify that they will be joining together with their foreigner husbands. I really don’t choose dancers. Moingon bitaw ng uban nga diin kuno ko nanguha sa akong mga dancers kay dili man mga gwapo ug gwapa,” he said smiling.
Practices, meanwhile, start five days before the grand parade.
“There is nothing to practice really, only the formations. We practice every after office hours and end up at around 10 in the evening. This is the routine,” he said.
With only five days of practice and with dancers from all walks of life that are only connected through SWU, how does Myche instill discipline?
“I don’t shout when teaching. I instill values to get their respect. I instill in them my four gems – love, discipline, respect and patience. I make the dancers understand that we are joining not for the prize but for our love and reverence to the Sto. Niño,” he said.
SWU does not also spend much for their contingent to the parade because of Myche’s policy of simplicity. The group lives on donations from friends and school alumni. Their costumes are even sewn by Myche’s sister!
“The Sinulog is a religious dance. It is not supposed to be ostentatious. That is why I use leaves, flowers and candles as our props because there are things that we bring to our church as offerings. I feel sad because some contingents have forgotten the true meaning of the Sinulog. Wala na ang religiosity. It has become more of a spectacle. In the Sinulog, the Santo Niño alone should be the star,” said a teary-eyed Myche.
He then apologized for being emotional saying, “I cannot help but shed tears when I talk about the Sinulog. The Sinulog is my life.”
Indeed, the Sinulog is his life because even in death, Myche plans to be with the Sinulog parade. He said that he has already instructed his family to have his body cremated and the ashes will be spread along the parade route by one of the Sinulog Foundation commissioners during the mardi gras.
“The Sinulog is a prayer, an adoration. I want that to be my offering to the Santo Niño,” he said.
Two years after retiring from dancing and teaching because of health problems. Myche says he misses the Sinulog so much and plans to come back as a choreographer for any group who would want his services.
“Remember that the Sinulog is my life. I am still alive because I still have purpose— to dance.”
By: Quennie Sanchez Bronce