FOCUS on the veneration of the Santo Niño is the secret to the winning Sinulog dance formulas for both Emilio “Jojin” Pascual and Barry Luche, winning choreographers in this year’s Sinulog dancing contest—Pascual for the Sinulog-based and for street dancing categories and Luche for free interpretation.

For Pascual, who is from Mandaue, choreography is an avocation. He is the chairman of the history department of University of San Carlos and heritage/culture “consultant at large” for both Mandaue and Tangub cities.

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He bases his choreography on the history of the Santo Niño of Cebu, as well the history of the city, and Philippine culture and way of life. He choreographed for the Sinulog in the 80s, but stopped when he became Manila-based in the 90s. He resumed in 2002, when Tangub City commissioned him to choreograph for the Sinanduloy Cultural Troop, its Sinulog participation. Tangub has since become his second home.

Pascual says his choreography starts from scratch. His creative energies are focused on the choreography even when he attends weddings, and sees movies (especially old musicals). From these he gets ideas for details, props and formations for the “coating” that serves to deliver the message of the veneration aspect of the dance.

With Tangub, he has artistic freedom: “Whatever I envision, they give the go-ahead.” Budget is not an issue. No wonder Tangub has won seven out of the nine Sinulog festivals it has participated in.

Barry Luche is from Daan Bantayan. He was a teacher when he was asked to choreograph the Sinulog particpation of his home town in 1996.

He did not know then what the Sinulog was about, but was told by his father to just pray to the Santo Niño. After all the trials, he was happy that Daan Bantayan won second in the free interpretation. The following year, Daan Bantayan became a winner champion in the same category.

This experience opened a new career for him. He no longer teaches, but goes to wherever he is called on to choreograph for the various festivals around the islands.

Luche started choreographing for Placer, Masbate, last year when the contingent, Tribu Himag-ulaw, ranked sixth in the Sinulog festival.

The Sinulog participation of Placer, Luche explains, is shouldered by the private funds of the mayor, Joshur Jud Seachon Lanete, who is a Santo Niño devotee.

When he was two years old, the mayor, along with a Santo Niño image, was saved from a fire that burned his room. Luche says that the mayor believes he was saved by the Santo Niño; it is the same image carried by the lead dancer of Placer.

For this year, Placer’s performance was dedicated to love and peace for the whole world. The 100-strong contingent comes from all walks of Placer life—elementary and high school students, fishermen, “trisikad” drivers—who were auditioned in October.

They then devoted their free time to practicing the “sinulog,” and in making their elaborate costume conceived by Luche..

According to Luche, he focused on the Santo Niño so that “wherever you looked, the Santo Niño would be there.” He is very pleased with his finale, when he had all the dancers, himself included, carrying props that made their group look like a hundred dancing Santo Niños.

For sure, if Pascual and Luche particpate in the Sinulog again next year, they eill have a fresh version of the Sinulog, a new expression of their love for the Santo Niño!