Contemporary Chamorro cultural dance

Vince J. C. Reyes is a Chamorro dance leader and the fa’fana’guen (instructor or leader of a cultural group) of I Gima’ Inetnon Gef Pa’go.

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 Chamorro-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 Chamorro traditions of extended family ties and obligations, respect for elders, and deep faith in their Catholic religion.

Reyes was inspired by an oral history project in high school, whereby he began to explore and appreciate his Chamorro 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 Chamorro 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 Chamorro songs and chants provided inspiration for several of the songs and dances he later created. In 1999, the choir successfully produced Guam’s first CD compilation of traditional Chamorro church music. This album successfully demonstrated how traditional music can evolve without losing sight of its original intent.

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.

In 2000 Reyes began teaching at Inarajan 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 Chamorro 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. 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 Gef Pa’go to better define their association with the southern communities that feed Inarajan Middle School.

Reyes has always had a passion to perpetuate and promote Guam’s Chamorro 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. One of Reyes’ philosophies for promoting Chamorro culture through the arts is based on the premise of being able to successfully “market” culture to compete with the many modern enticements available to today’s Chamorro youth. The success of his group is based on making it prestigious to be a member of Inetnon Gef Pa’go. His dancers define their goal as becoming the “Fame school of Guam,” analogous to the dance academy featured in the classic dance television show and movie, Fame. To that end, Reyes has developed a qualifying application process for members of his IMS dance classes to move into the community-based Inetnon Gef Pa’go Cultural Group.

After going through a series of dance skills auditions, teacher recommendations, written essay and panel interviews, the aspiring students are awarded membership during a school-wide assembly and dance performance conducted each semester at IMS. Student and group achievements are awarded with monogrammed T-shirts, polo shirts and wraps. For each level of cultural skills achievement, members are awarded with specially-made replicas of ancient sinahi (a crescent-shaped, clam shell pendant), spondylus shell pendants and other jewelry. Members are professionally photographed and video-documented to be featured on annual calendars, CD, and DVD productions. They are groomed in a holistic grounding of cultural crafts, traditions, language, history and performance skills to represent the best of Chamorro culture. Reyes consistently works to ensure that his members are more than entertainers – that they promote their heritage by living their culture intrinsically.

By the time Inetnon Gef Pa’go celebrated its tenth 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, China and the Philippines. Through their efforts, they earned the Guam Visitors Bureau Excellence in Tourism Hafa Adai Spirit Award in 2006 and 2009. 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. Senior group members also have traveled through Europe in two Folk Festival tours with the International Organization of Folk Artists (IOV).

Inetnon Gef Pa’go placed first in the Chant Division of the University of Guam 6th Annual CHamoru Language Competition in 2009. They were the overall winners in the 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2009 Dinana’ Minagof Cultural Dance Competition. Internationally, they won the Best Folklore Performance at the Korea World Travel Fair (KOTFA) in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

As teacher and group leader, Reyes was awarded the Traditional Teacher of the Year Award from the Guam Humanities Council (2004). He was also invited as the Oceania Representative presenter/panelist for the IOV World Youth Congress in 2008. His work at Inarajan Middle School which led to the development of the school’s cultural arts program has brought awards and recognition to IMS as the most culturally connected school of the Guam Department of Education system. His role as a certified fa’fana’gue was awarded by the Master of Chamorro Dance, Francisco B. Rabon, and the Pa’a Taotao Tano coalition of Chamorro Dance Groups.

In 2012, Reyes authored the Cultural Dance Curriculum, which was successfully approved by the Guam Education Policy Board and is the official curriculum for all middle schools on the island. Reyes is a teacher at Southern High School, where he is creating a cultural fine arts program that infuses cultural tourism, hospitality, marketing, and the arts. Inetnon Gef Pa’go also found a new home at the Inarajan Garden House, a multimillion dollar resort where he is now in the planning the development of establishing Guam’s first Center for Cultural Performing Arts.

Reyes recently had the distinguished honor to be selected as a Jury Member for the 2012 and 2013 Cheonan World Folk Dance Competition in Cheonan City, Korea as well as the 14th International Buyukcekmece Culture and Art Festival in Istanbul, Turkey. He also was recently elected as the Local Chairperson for Oceania as part of the Federation of International Dance Festivals (FIDAF) and received the Hafa Adai Spirit – Individual Golden Latte Award from the Guam Visitors Bureau.

In December 2014, Reyes was awarded the title of Sainan Minenhalom Bumailan Chamorro (Master of Chamorro Dance) by the Guam Council of the Arts and Humanities Agency (CAHA) for his work in promoting and preserving Chamorro cultural heritage through the art of dance.

Reyes and his group can be seen performing live at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort Dinner Show, where they have been showcasing Guam’s first full Chamorro Cultural content in a major hotel venue since 2007.

The leadership and creative direction of Vince 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

Vince Reyes Video Sample

For further reading

Inetnon Gef Pa’go on Facebook. Web accessed 26 August 2013.