Pilar Packard never forgot the steps she learned as a youngster in the Philippines.
“I grew up doing it in school,” she recalls. “They start us early; part of our physical education is the Filipino culture of dance.”
Packard will explain some of those ancestral moves Saturday at the Gilbert Global Village Festival, a free event celebrating the city’s diversity with multicultural performances, activities and food.
She will take the stage with about seven other members of her Mabuhay Dance Group, a 15-member-strong troupe that travels the Valley to promote Filipino culture through dance.
Several dances indigenous to the island nation, including the “tinikling” and a dance popular in big cities during Spain’s 300-year rule over the Philippines, are part of Mabuhay’s 40-minute show. So are a few hula dances.
“There are so many Filipinos who went to Hawaii at the turn of the century to work in the pineapple fields and in the plantations, and they opted to stay there and have their families. Hula is very big in the Philippines, and like Hawaiians, Polynesian seafarers were our ancestors,” says Packard.
The group rehearses in Packard’s Mesa family room — a fitting location since Packard has long kept the dances of her homeland close to heart. As a young woman new to the United States 23 years ago, she found she missed them.
“When I got married and had kids and lived here, the craving was there to dance, to choreograph. When I was single and working on my career, in the Philippines, I didn’t have that craving because it was all around me — the culture. Here I did, because I wanted people to know me, my culture. I wanted to share it.”
Now as leader of Mabuhay, a no-budget, all-volunteer group, Packard teaches anyone who has an interest. Dancers are college students from Arizona State University and Mesa Community College, high schoolers from Chandler and Gilbert, and some of their mothers — all of mixed descent and ability levels.
“I hope people watching learn a bit of the Philippines and enjoy our performance, because it’s really upbeat and fun. Especially the tinikling — when the dancers are jumping over two bamboo poles,” says Packard. “The music is very upbeat, you can clap with it, and that part of the show is the funnest part — the dance of the Filipino barrio fiesta.”
That merging of cultures — Filipino and Spanish, Hawaiian and Filipino — is indicative of the diversity highlighted at the festival, which draws around 4,000 visitors, according to organizer Gayle Disch.
Disch says new this year is a community dance floor, where festival goers can learn the steps to dances from around the world, including Serbian and Mexican folk numbers.
The festival also features two signature entrees: Australian crocodile eggrolls and kangaroo sliders, provided by Gilbert’s Down Under Wines & Bistro.
Other attractions include:
• Parade of Nations — Children wearing costumes carry flags from countries in the United Nations.
• Religions of the World
• World Stages — featuring live entertainment
• Creation Nation — hands-on activities for children and adults
• Explore-A-Nation — exhibits and hands-on activities
• International Bazaar and Avenue of the Arts — exotic merchandise and original artwork marketplaces
• Taste of the World — food vendors
• Community Art Project — Visitors decorate puzzle pieces that will form a USA map to be placed on a painted globe.
Mabuhay goes on at 1:10 p.m. Saturday on the Village Stage. The free Gilbert Global Village Festival is 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Gilbert Civic Center North Campus, 50 E. Civic Center Drive.
If you go
What: 8th annual Gilbert Global Village Festival
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Mabuhay goes on at 1:10 p.m. at the Village Stage.
Where: Gilbert Civic Center North Campus, 50 E. Civic Center Drive
Cost: Free admission
Information: (480) 503-6200 or www.gilbertaz.gov