Today we’d like to introduce you to Jestoni Dagdag.
Jestoni, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born and raised in the Philippines. At the age of 14, I moved to California with my family. Growing up back home, I’ve always loved performing. I participated in church choir and danced at events at school. However, I never thought I would make it as a career. There were no dance studios available in my hometown of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija so I did not have any formal training in western dance forms such ballet, jazz, or modern. However, the Filipino culture is very rich in it’s folk and ethnic dances. They’re usually taught during elementary and high school as part of the P.E. class. For example, there is a dance called “tinikling” where dancers hop on and off a pair of bamboo poles. The poles are held by 2 people on each end. They tap them on the ground on count 1 and 2, then snap together on 3 to create a rhythm. According to passed on stories, it is to mimic birds hopping and dodging bamboo stick traps set up by farmers on rice fields. Other dance forms were influenced by vibrant cultures such as Hispanic, Asian, and Muslim.
Moving on, the same tradition was continued when we moved to America. My family became involved at church with a Filipino community in Santa Ana, Ca. I was the youth leader for praise and worship and participated in Filipino dance numbers for especial church events led by my youth director and mentor, Alpha Ullo. She was the one who always encouraged me to keep pursuing my artistic goals.
Fast forward to 18 years of age, I was introduced to modern dance in college. It was a pivotal moment because for the first time, I finally felt a powerful and meaningful way to express myself. Being an immigrant, I had a difficult time transitioning because I wanted to be understood more than anything. Although English language is considered as one of the official language of the Philippines, I still felt inauthentic because of the cultural differences. Dancing seemed to be the perfect medium to tell my truth. Soon after, I started training in ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance. In 2015, I graduated at the University of California, Irvine with a BFA in Dance Performance. Upon graduation, I embarked on a freelance dance career performing works by Shaun Boyle, Donal Mckayle, and Chad Michael Hall. I also had an amazing time dancing with contemporary dance companies in Southern California, such as Re:born Dance Interactive, Palm Dance Collective LA, Kelly Alvarez & Dancers, and Fuse Dance Co. In addition, I’ve had the honor to continue to train in ballet with Southern California Dance Theatre under the direction of Ms. Paula Vreulink, performing lead roles in their full-length productions of The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.
Although performing is my first love, I developed a new passion for choreography and started a dance company in 2017 called DAGDAG Dance. I have always been a story-teller, and becoming a choreographer provided an opportunity to delve deeper into understanding my own identity. The creation process has also been a learning experience in the business aspect of running a company.
On November 16th of this year, DAGDAG Dance is finally producing its first-ever full evening show held at DIAVOLO Performance Space in Los Angeles. For more info about the show, please visit dagdagdance.com.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road, but I would definitely say it is worth the struggles. As many aspiring artists do, I’ve had and still battle insecurities. I was not fully aware of my own identity or what I represent. I identify as part of the lgbtq+ community, but personally, it was something I did not want to talk about until recently, especially with my family. By understanding and accepting myself for who I am, and welcoming the unconditional love that my family and friends have for me, it lifted the excess baggage and provided a sense of belonging. This has resonated so much because truly, no man is an island. I needed to be a part of a community to pursue and share the most authentic version of my art.
In regards to being an artistic director/choreographer for DAGDAG Dance, it’s basically a lot of trials and errors. No formula is perfect in dance making so it is very important that I stay curious and to allow the struggles be a significant part of the journey. As an artist, I am very much interested in the process than the product. That’s when I learn the hardest and come out stronger.
Please tell us about Dagdag Dance.
DAGDAG Dance is a contemporary dance company based in Long Beach, CA. It was founded in 2017 to provide performance opportunities for local dancers and musicians to work closely in a collaborative and professional environment. The company’s mission is to create innovative and quality works that will resonate in the hearts and minds of both dance enthusiasts and local audiences. Our vision is to collaborate across disciplines by fostering local talents in Long Beach and the greater Los Angeles area. DAGDAG Dance aims to produce works that touch the soul, stir emotion, and spark imagination.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Of course, I do feel and believe that Los Angeles offers a plethora of opportunities. From its diverse and vibrant communities to its gorgeous beaches and rugged mountains, I don’t see why it would not be a good place to inspire and be inspired to start a dance company. There are so many talented performers that are hungry to express themselves through dance, and it would be a shame not to be a part of the ever-growing community in Los Angeles. It does come with many challenges, but life is full of it so might as well live, breathe, and struggle doing what you’re passionate about.
- November 16, 2:30 PM (matinee show) $25 pre-sale; $30 at the door; visit dagdagdance.com for tix info
- November 16, 8:00 PM (evening show) $25 pre-sale; $30 at the door; visit dagdagdance.com for tix info
- Website: dagdagdance.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @dagdag_dance
- Other: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC55eECwfyM9dgjHtumcmNzA
Photography by Ron Mariano; Dancers in photos: Jestoni Dagdag, Noel Dilworth, Leah Hamel, Victor Hugo, Esther Jung, Emeline Lotherington, Elizabeth Mu, Angela Nunes, Stacie Overmyer, Jessica Richards, Mizuki Sako, Brooke Sonke, Kenneth Teo, Eliza S. Tollett, Claire Upton