Contemporary CHamoru cultural dance

Vincent J.C. Reyes, a Master of CHamoru dance, serves as Director of the Inetnon Gefpå’go Cultural Arts Program. Reyes, the son of Vicente (Ben) T. Reyes and Frances C. Sablan, was born and raised in the village of Malesso in southern Guam. He describes himself as growing up in a very CHamoru-Americanized family of the 1970s and 1980s. They lived in a comfortable, modern house. Like most parents of that generation, Reyes’ parents raised him in an English-speaking environment to help him succeed in the Western world, as they put it. They otherwise practiced CHamoru traditions of extended family ties and obligations, respect for elders, and deep faith in their Catholic religion.

Inspired by an oral history project in high school

Reyes was inspired by an oral history project in high school, whereby he began to explore and appreciate his CHamoru heritage. In his desire to access this world that he formerly took for granted, he began to spend more time with his elders, trying to learn more about his language and traditions. He continued his search through his college years, enhancing his CHamoru language skills whenever possible. Reyes explored his Catholic musical heritage, too, while serving as the choir director of the San Dimas Voices in Faith Choir, whose CHamoru songs and chants provided inspiration for several of the songs and dances he later created. In 1999, the choir produced Guam’s first CD compilation of traditional and contemporary CHamoru church music. This album successfully demonstrated how traditional music can evolve without losing sight of its original intent. Many of the songs such as Tatan Mami, Tell My Family, and Asaina Ti Hu Tungo became a staple in CHamoru religious gatherings and continues to be used at many church services and religious events.

After earning his Bachelor’s degree in International Business and Political Science Reyes eventually pursued his teaching certification from the University of Guam. He gained valuable marketing experience as an account manager for Latte Publishing, Inc., and worked closely with Pulitzer Prize Winner Manny Crisostomo. He then moved on to work for Sanctuary, Inc., as Human Resources Director, where he administered and developed selected programs for at-risk youth, supervised and trained residential workers, and was responsible for public relations.

Cultural arts teacher

In 2000 Reyes began teaching at Inalåhan Middle School (IMS) as a cultural arts teacher, where he authored and implemented the school’s first cultural arts program. He formed the dance group, Inetnon Natibu, in 2001 as a venue for his graduating middle school students to continue their traditional arts and dance activities. He collaborated with Gef Pa’go CHamoru Cultural Village in Inalahan to develop and implement an intergenerational program for his students to experience hands-on training from the Gef Pa’go traditional masters.

Inetnon Gefpå’go

In 2004 he was hired as Gef Pa’go’s Youth Program Director, thereby forming a strong link between his school base and the community. The group chose the name Inetnon Gefpå’go to better define their association with the southern communities that feed Inalåhan Middle School.

Reyes has always had a passion to perpetuate and promote Guam’s CHamoru Heritage and believes that it is through cultural performance arts that he is able to channel this passion. However, he considers himself only the platform and vehicle to instill a sense of pride and identity for Guam’s young people.

By the time Inetnon Gefpå’go celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2010, they had achieved international recognition and awards. They became the most-selected traveling group for the Guam Visitors Bureau to represent Guam in their visitor markets, performing since 2006 at numerous promotions in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Russia, China and the Philippines.

Through their efforts, they earned the Guam Visitors Bureau Excellence in Tourism Hafa Adai Spirit Award in 2006 and 2009, Best Folklore Performance at the Korea Organization of Travel Fair Agents (KOTFA) in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011, the Most Popular Performance in 2010 and 2011 and Best Brand Performance in 2012 at the Philippines World Travel Fair. In addition, they were invited to participate in the “Culture Moves!” symposium sponsored by University of Hawaii and Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2006. They also participated in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau in 2004 and in American Samoa in 2008. Reyes was also invited as the Oceania Representative presenter/panelist for the IOV World Youth Congress in 2008.

Reyes and his group can usually be seen performing live at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort Dinner Show, where they have been showcasing Guam’s first full-CHamoru Cultural Dinner show since 2007. In 2016, Inetnon Gefpa’go expanded their show to Guam’s tourists by performing weekly at the Outrigger Resort, Guam Hotel.

Locally, they continued their winning streak by placing first at the University of Guam’s CHamoru Language Competition – Chant Division for several years and were the the overall winners in the 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2009 Dinana’ Minagof Cultural Dance Competition. His group is the current recipient of the Best Cultural Dance Group Award for the Guam Island Music Awards (IMA’s). They have consistently garnered this award for 6 years in a row since 2014. In 2017, Reyes produced and directed the smash hit, Sen Guaiya Hao Guahan which was nominated for Song of the Year at the Guam IMA’s. Subsequent singles were released such as End of the Day, Tuhu I Lago’-hu and their most recent hit single Hanom Manana. All gained notable popularity among island residents and continue to be played on mainstream radio and online.

As a teacher and group leader, Reyes was awarded the Traditional Teacher of the Year Award from the Guam Humanities Council (2004). His work at Guam Department of education, has led to him to develop the school’s cultural arts program that has brought awards and recognition to the schools he’s taught as the most culturally connected school of the Guam Department of Education system.

In 2012, the CHamoru Cultural Dance Curriculum he authored was successfully approved by the Guam Education Policy Board and is now the official curriculum for all middle schools on the island. That same year, Reyes also was recognized as the A’adahen Kultura-ta (Protector of our Culture) KUAM Careforce Honoree. Reyes ended the year by co-producing Southern’s Got Talent Production. In conjunction with the Superintendent of Education, Reyes lead an island wide Wave Campaign against the glamorization of violence in social media. Southerns Got Talent continues to be a signature event for Southern High School, drawing in hundreds of students from all over the island. He currently teaches at Southern High School where he has developed a Cultural Fine Arts Pocket Academy for students that infuses cultural tourism, hospitality, marketing, and the arts.

While still working fulltime as a teacher at Southern High School, Reyes readily took on the opportunity to share his knowledge and passion by serving as an Adjunct Professor as part of the pioneering team of the CHamoru Studies Program at the University of Guam, offering CHamoru Dance as an elective for undergraduate students.

Master of CHamoru Dance

In October 2014, Reyes was awarded the MagPro Governors Award of Excellence Merit Cup of Excellence Overall Employee of the Year Award. This award, made him the first teacher and employee from the
Guam Department of Education to ever win this award. Later that year, he became the newest inductee as Master of CHamoru Dance and was appointed as National Folkdance Director for Guam by the Council of Arts and Humanities Agency of Guam. Internationally, Reyes was appointed to serve as Local Chairperson for Oceania as part of the Federation of International Dance Festivals (FIDAF).

Under the direction of Reyes, Inetnon Gefpa’go continues to trailblaze around the world, promoting CHamoru Culture through music, song and dance. In 2015, Inetnon Gefpa’go competed in Buyukcemece Culture and Arts Festival where they placed 3rd Place overall in the International Golden Bridge Dance Competition. They continued on to Romania and took 4th place. In 2018, they traveled to Cheonan, Korea and won 3rd Place Overall, beating out major countries from around the world. Inetnon Gefpa’go continues to receive invitations at many of the most highly recognized folk dance festivals around the world. Their most recent tour was in January of 2020, where they were invited by the Royal Family of Oman to perform at the world renowned Royal Opera House of Muscat. To date, Inetnon Gefpa’go has traveled to more than 27 countries around the world.

Not only has he successfully showcased Guam around the world but also organized International Dance Festivals on Guam as well. In 2015, working closely with the Director of the National Folkdance Company of Phillpines, Reyes was able to host Guam’s First International Dance Festival. Because of the tremendous success of this initial festival, he organized two more festivals – one in 2016, and the other in 2018. These festivals showcased groups from all over the world including places like Russia, Singapore, Argentina, Finland, and Mexico.

Internationally, he has had the distinguished honor to be selected as a Jury Member for numerous Folk Festivals and Competitions around the world. Among them are the Cheonan World Folk Dance Competition in Cheonan City, Korea (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019), the International Buyukcekmece Culture and Art Festival in Istanbul, Turkey (2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019), International Folk Dance Festival – Vitoshia in Sofia, Bulgaria (2017, 2020), the Indonesian World Folkdance Competition in Jakarta, Indonesia (2013), Festival Carpati in Petisi, Romania (2015), Mallorca World Festival in Mallorca, Spain (2019), International Folk Dance Festival DORIN OANCEA 2020 Web Edition (2020)

The leadership and creative direction of Reyes continues to provide inspirational and appealing ways to entice youth and young adults to learn about and promote their cultural heritage through the arts.

By Judy Flores, PhD


For further reading

Inetnon Gefpå’go. “Inetnon Gefpå’go’s Facebook Page.” Facebook, 14 July 2015.