Some people might not know this about me, but I spent about 4 years of my adolescence performing with a cultural Filipino dance troupe called Fil-Am. Come to think of it, I was a pretty active teenager with lots of extra-curricular activities to pass the time: choir, drama, speech & debate, volunteering with children & the homeless, and of course, the filipino dancing (just to name a few). It was a really great time in my life - fun and full of purpose, always with the goal of being exceptional at whatever I attempted.
The dancing was a great life lesson for me, because it gave me the opportunity to get in touch with my roots - a connection that was virtually missing, from living in a mostly-white suburban town in California. So I learned how to dance with fans and tambourines, how to roll on the floor gracefully while balancing glasses on my head that were filled halfway with wine, how to avoid getting my ankles caught between sticks of bamboo while hopping around to the ringing sound of 14-string bandurrias.
I got a lot of practice speaking tagalog, and even learned some of the traditional songs (one of which I actually earned a solo for during our shows). I wore the traditional dresses of my ancestors, learned about the different regions of the Philippines, and discovered an honest sense of pride for where I came from.
This experience also led me to my first real trip abroad- when our troupe was invited to an international cultural dance festival in Marseilles, France. It was 1997, and that was the trip that changed my life... it gave me a small taste of the outside and showed me a world full of amazing cultures. I met so many people during that festival: cultural dancers from France, Turkey, Laos, Brazil, Scotland, Germany, the Ivory Coast, and so many others I know I'm leaving out.
Recently, with the help of facebook, I've gotten back in touch with some of the old dancers from my troupe. Many of them are married with children now - which is a strange reality to face when I think back on all our teenage shenanigans. I remember all of us being so excited about being able to drink wine in France... without our parents there to forbid us.
And now we're all grown up, but we all collectively share this period of time where we grew closer to each other and to our heritage. Its weird to think now about the real, tangible impact this period of my life made on me. Up until that point, I think I struggled a bit with my identity. I was always different from my friends... I had a darker skin-tone and hair-color, ate weird food, had a strange language and practiced traditions that were alien to everyone else.
But after that time, I understood my uniqueness and learned how to embrace it. And when I really think about it, it gave me a significant foundation for who I am today. It makes perfect sense that I have a passion for travel, a knack for understanding peoples' differences, a genuine love for people and the consistent desire for the extraordinary.
The past is a funny thing when it actually becomes "the past". Because while you're in the middle of a life-changing experience, you're never quite sure how it will impact you in the long run. And then suddenly, perhaps 10 years or more down the line, you start to understand how it's shaped you.
I don't know about you, but it always seems to be the good things about the past that find their way back out in my memories - the experiences that make me better and take me closer to my ideal. So I wonder... I know that being here in London is something very heavy. It's impact on me might not manifest itself right away - but I can only hope that it'll take me further in the right direction.