“Thousands of starfishes were washed ashore and a boy was throwing them back to the sea. An old man passed by and he asked the boy, "What are you trying to do?" The boy answered, "I'm helping the starfishes from dying...” And the man said, "There are thousands of them, and you're just a kid. What more can you do? How many starfishes can you throw back to the sea?" And the boy said, "Not many but to this starfish, it means a lot," Edward Hayco quoted.

Young members of the Dancesport Team Cebu City's training pool perform during the Dancesport sa Barangay workshop culmination. (Maria Armie Sheila Boco Garde)

CEBU CITY -- In some school gymnasiums in this city’s villages, children as young as five years old are trained on the basics of dancesport. The cause for teaching is beyond learning and every routine aims to change lives.

Dancesport is an expensive competitive dance, but in this city, members of the Dancesport Team Cebu City (DTCC) conduct a free training for out-of-school youths dubbed as “Dancesport sa Barangay” (Dancesport in the Village).

The grassroots program supported by the Cebu City Sports Commission started in 2000. It was organized to give back to the community and inspire out-of-school youths to consider dancesport as a better alternative over drug abuse and petty crimes.

"I think when we say ‘give back to the barangay (village),’ the first thing we could think were kids who run around the barangay not knowing what to do with their lives. So we started with them, and from there we kept moving forward," said Edward Hayco, director of the DTCC.

Renowned performers Hayco and wife Eleanor, together with friends, founded DTCC.

“We were originally hobbyists who enjoyed social dancing in clubs. Slowly, we evolved into competitive dancing. We started forming an informal group, considerably in 1998,” Hayco said.

Most of the participants of the training are children from underprivileged families.

“We have quite a mix of personalities and backgrounds. We have scavengers beneficiaries, drug addicts, kids who were once involved in petty crimes and some were members of gangs,” Hayco added.

Most of the volunteer teachers, meanwhile, were once beneficiaries of the grassroots program. They are grouped and assigned even in far-flung villages. The training usually starts first week of April and ends third week of May. After the one-month program, thousands of children who participated are gathered in a culminating activity, where everyone performs.

DTCC secretary Jenette Flores said the training does not only promote awareness about dancesport. It also serves as fishing ground for potential athletes, who could compete in national and international competitions.

Children who have shown potential during the one-month training undergo a screening to become part of the training pool of dancers. These children are trained to join in the national and international competition.

So far, the dancesport team won 1,200 medals both from national and international competitions, of which 700 are gold medals. And most of the performers who brought these medals have been trained and discovered in villages through the “Dancesport sa Barangay.”

Jessa Mae Briones, one of the volunteers, said the grassroots program helped them develop professionalism and perseverance. It also made them value team work and humility, among others.

Briones, who was discovered in Barangay Bulacao, Pardo, was one of the performers who swept the gold medals in a championship in New York in 2011.

“I was given the opportunity to compete internationally. God has given me the opportunity to go to the US. We went to New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to perform. It was a 27-day trip and I learned a lot of things in life,” Briones added.

Hayco said the grassroots program owes its success to its passionate and committed volunteers, who dedicate time and effort to help change some young people’s lives.

“You have to work not because you expect anyone to pay you, you have to work because you love to work, and that you're happy to serve,” said Briones.

The City Government and the Department of Education, among other stakeholders, also support the program and provide the needed manpower.

The DTCC is the first Philippine team to win gold in the International Children’s Games in the Dancesport South East Asian Games in Bangkok.

Through this grassroots program, Cebu City broke the records of Budapest, Hungary for the title “World’s Largest Dance Class” in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In June 27, 2009, the DTCC gathered 7,770 dancers inside the Cebu City Sports Center. Most of the participants who took part in the historic event were the beneficiaries of the Dancesport sa Barangay program.

Thousands of Cebuano youths from different walks of life were gathered to dance waltz, samba, swing and boogie. This record was published under the category Popular Culture-Mass Participation along with other record-breakers around the world.