Line Dancing Showcases Filipino Culture in Hampton Roads

August 3, 2011

By Ashley Sabin

After more than a quarter century, the Filipino line dancing group known as the 5th Dimension is still performing and bringing Filipino culture to the Hampton Roads

The 5th Dimension is headed by Nick Bernas, a local Filipino DJ who started the group. They teach cultural dances as well as line dances to younger Filipinos within the area.

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The 5th Dimension helps showcase Filipino culture in Hampton Roads.

“They treat it like a little family thing, they embrace people here and they consider me part of the family,” Sandra Madison, 53, said. She’s been part of the group since 2007.

“The strongest thing in terms of the filipino community is that really strong family bond within our group and our extended community,” Raymond Obispo, vice president of the Filipino-American National Historical Society Hampton Roads Chapter said.

One thing that is very important to the Filipino community here in Virginia Beach is teaching the younger generation all about their heritage and dance is one way that that is done.  According to Obispo, like any culture, there has always been a struggle within the local community to get the elders on board with anything new. Line dancing is a good example.

Click to hear Raymond Obisbo Talk About the Filipino Culture in Hampton Roads
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However, the 5th Dimension, with many members in their 70s or 80s, embrace the new and incorporate Filipino music as well as latin and disco music to entice people to participate in their cultural art forms. The group also teaches the younger generation cultural dances like folk dancing with traditional Filipino clothing, but has evolved to be known for their line dancing.

According to the 2010 Census, Virginia is ranked ninth among states with the largest Filipino population when it comes to the percentage of the state population, with California being first and Hawaii second. There are approximately 66,000 Filipinos in Virginia making up 8 percent of the total population. In Hampton Roads alone there are roughly 32,000 Filipinos and in Virginia Beach between 17,000 and 22,000 Filipinos within the community.

Filipino line dancing groups are not uncommon in the Hampton Roads area.
According to Bernas, the more than 30 groups active today all have their start with him.

“I started this here in the Tidewater area a long time ago. All the existing groups now came from me, my group the 5th Dimension,” Bernas said.

Nobody knows exactly when the line dancing group began. Bernas, in his
70s, is fuzzy when it comes to the particulars of the group. Even those
who have been members for decades can’t seem to remember an exact date.
They just know that for as long as they can remember they have been line
dancing at the Philippine Culture Center.

The group does not compete, rather, they are “showcasers,” according to Bernas.

“They don’t compete. What they’ll do is show off,” Madison said.

    View a slide show on the 5th Dimension in action.

Whenever Bernas is invited to DJ he brings his group to showcase Filipino music along with more contemporary dance moves that have evolved throughout the years to include cha-chas, rumbas, and the mamba.

Over the years, Bernas has decided to mix up the music.

“Since they started the country line dance then I started not to use the country instead of using latin songs, music and all kinds of disco,” Bernas said.

When he first started out as the line dancing instructor Bernas used traditional Filipino music including the Todo Todo, one of the most popular songs in the Filipino community to dance to. Now, he has a mixture of Filipino, latin and urban country music in his collection and the group has line dances to match each one.

The 5th Dimension performs at many of the local Filipino functions at the Philippine Culture Center. They recently performed for the Fil-Am Friendship Day in Virginia Beach on July 2nd.

“Every fundraising or occasion there is always a line dancing.  It’s just for fun,” Bernas said.

The group has hundreds of line dances they have perfected over the years. According to line dancing instructor Sid Calimlim, this is fitting considering there are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines. He’s been one of the group’s instructors for the last ten years.

This particular evening Calimlim was teaching around 20 members a new 32 count line dance called “the people clips.” This dance takes 32 counts to complete the rotation and includes 3/4 turns, grape vines and flanks.

“We danced that one a long time ago. So we have some new people that want to learn it so I had to do a quick work through,” Calimlim said.

Madison remembers that it was rough for her when she began dancing at the center.

“When I first started coming here in October of 2009 I couldn’t do any of their line dances. I used to give them my money, it cost $3 to get in here. I said I’ll come back so ya’ll can laugh at me some more. It was hard. It took me about four months to start learning their line dances because I was used to doing the urban line dances.”

Jeanie Requina 51, is the newest member.

“I came here for Zumba and stayed for line dancing, this is my first time.” Requina said. “I want to get out and line dancing is good exercise, everybody loves to line dance.”

To learn to line dance or more about the Filipino community in Virginia Beach, the 5th Dimension encourages people to come out to the Philippine Culture Center on Monday through Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m.