Editor's note: This story was originally written for another course at Western. Even though the reporter is not on our staff, the story has gone through our editing process and meets our standards.
Guest submission by Kenna Peterson
Angela Sebastian recalls her fifth-grade classmates telling her, “Hey, this is just P.E. class, chill out!” But her love of movement started many years earlier.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Sebastian, who began dancing at 4 years old, is now an instructor in Western Washington University’s dance department.
She recently choreographed a piece for Western dancers titled “Lakaran (Walkways),” which will be performed at Western’s spring Dance in Concert May 11 to 14.
Sebastian has years of experience in the collegiate dance world. She majored in dance, earning her bachelor's degree from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. After graduating and spending a year and a half performing at Hong Kong Disneyland, she pursued her master’s in fine arts at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa.
In Hawaiʻi, Sebastian felt she was finally allowed to make mistakes and seek chaos in her journey through movement. Sebastian said her experience working toward her master’s was a welcoming atmosphere compared to the strict culture she was used to from her training in the Philippines.
“If your leg is not high enough, you are not good enough,” Sebastian said, recalling the experience. Her time in Hawaiʻi was different – it was the first time she felt like she was accepted.
From that point on, her choreography became influenced by what she described as the migration of the body.
“I wanted to talk about the state of my body in the Philippines, the state of my body when I went to Hong Kong and the state of my body in Hawaiʻi,” said Sebastian. “And as a dancer, what were the movements that I generated in those three different places considering the state of my body?”
Sebastian’s piece “Lakaran” explores a similar trail. The piece acknowledges the current state of her body in Bellingham.
“Lakaran” initially premiered at Western’s Winter Dance in Concert and was performed in early March at the American College Dance Association’s Northwest Conference in Utah. For the spring Dance in Concert, Sebastian is reworking the piece, doubling the cast from three dancers to six dancers.
Sebastian began working on the piece with her students in September to have it polished for the spring, and now, the piece has evolved into something new. She says it has been a privilege to have extra time to work on and develop one piece.
“Now the dancers are actually molded into it. Now their movements are owned by them because it’s been in their body for so long, moving and moving,” said Sebastian. “It’s definitely grown to be more than an idea — now they’re really embodying it. They have their own interpretation of it.”
Part of “Lakaran” includes movements generated by Sebastian’s students based on improvisation prompts.
“It feels really cool to be a part of her piece because I’m contributing my own movement to it, but it’s still in her guidelines, so it feels like I’m valuable to the piece,” said Bethany Lynch, one of the original three dancers.
Sebastian describes her choreography and teaching process as a dialogue between her and her students. Just as when speaking to someone, dialogue in dance can be interpreted in different ways. With the three original dancers teaching the piece to the new members of the cast, the varying interpretations of Sebastian’s choreography will continue to evolve.
Pam Kuntz, Sebastian’s colleague in the dance department, said Sebastian “doesn’t teach the class, she teaches the individuals in the class” and truly knows them. When working with her dancers, Sebastian finds their strengths and produces surprising relationships in the choreography.
In January, Sebastian experienced a reminder of why she loves what she does. She had invited guest artist and fellow Filipino dancer, Toni Pasion, to teach a weeklong collaborative workshop for Western dancers.
“It was wonderful to bring someone in to teach hula and Filipino martial arts. It reminded me of who I am and how I want to teach dance to the community. It reminded me of why I started dancing and why I wanted to be a teacher,” said Sebastian.
“When I started doing Filipino movements [during the workshop], it was like an archival of my body. It transported me back to the Philippines. It brought me back to my younger self, and then I looked forward and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I actually like what I’m doing now!’”
Sebastian’s state of body and mind is a consistent theme in her choreography, navigating cultural differences and new environments. The roots of these explorations trace back to working on her master’s in Hawaiʻi.
“When I went to Hawaiʻi, I realized I wanted to talk about the body as it moves through lands and spaces and sea and water,” Sebastian said. “When we transport to different areas and land, we become influenced. We see this as just influences of the mind, but actually, it changes who we are, completely, from head to toe.”
Interested in attending Dance in Concert this spring and supporting Western’s dance department?
Performances will be held May 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. and May 14 at 2 p.m. at Western’s Performing Arts Center 282 Mainstage Theatre. Ticket details can be found here.
Kenna Peterson (she/her) is pursuing a major in journalism at Western and wrote this profile for JOUR 207.