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Natibu: The legacy

Updated: Mar 4

Man surrounded by island female dancers
Natibu Dance Academy: Photo courtesy by James Berry

Art Therapy By Donna Hope Blas

Biba Mes CHamoru!

One of my favorite art forms is dance. Most countries have their own traditional dances like the Samba (Brazil), Flamenco (Spain) and Step Dance (Ireland). 

Guam has its own dance, as well. According to Guampedia, in the late 1600s this dance was witnessed and described by the Jesuits as a group of women “swaying their bodies in place, moving their hands in a pleasing rhythm.”  To keep rhythm, “in their left hands they held little boxes of shells and bells,” while “singing in three-part harmony.”

You could only imagine how beautiful this performance must’ve been.  

With outside influences from the Spaniards and Filipinos, our traditional dances have evolved through the centuries. What dance am I talking about?  Hmmm. Some might say, the cha-cha-cha dance. Nope! Just the same, this is a local favorite.

We even have a song to go with it. It’s called “Cha-Cha-Cha Chamorro” by Jesse Bias. Oh! Come on! You know you sang that!

But seriously folks, the movement to bring back our original island dance was contributed by Francisco “Frank” Rabon, the founder of the Taotao Tano’ dance group.  

I strongly believe that the passing of information from teacher to student is of great importance. This is how we preserve our traditions.  When a student can teach what he was taught, it is called mastery. The student becomes the master.  Which brings me to the artist I’d like you to meet, Dr. Benjamin “Benjie” Santiago.  

Benjamin Santiago.

He is the founder and choreographer of the Natibu Dance Academy.  Natibu is a culmination of Pacific cultures from Guam to Hawaii. He embraces diversity. I believe this is one of the reasons his dance group has withstood the test of time. 

This year, they celebrate 29 years of existence! Many cultural dance groups come and go but Natibu continues to impact the people, especially the youth, of Guam. By the generations, might I add. 

His student’s children are also enrolled in Natibu Dance Academy.  The generations are blessed by his teachings. He’s even had a student or two start their own cultural dance groups. Just an extension of his dedication to his students to Guam and its people. 

Santiago’s students learn CHamoru dance as well as Hawaiian Hula.  His knowledge of both is extensive (and impressive).  He also writes and sings CHamoru songs. He chants Hawaiian songs.  In fact, he is addressed as “Kumu.” 

This is a respected title he earned from a world-renowned hula master in Hawaii.

Santiago has earned numerous awards for his hard work and dedication in everything he does. Did I mention he was named “Teacher of the Year” for 2021. No easy feat.  I could go on and on about him but let me end with this.

While getting to know Dr. B, I’ve come to realize that he is a man of integrity.  He pushes his students to be better. He teaches proper dance form and technique. He cares about your commitment.  I truly believe that he is the heart of Natibu.

Natibu Dance Academy is not just another dance group; it is a reflection of him. Dr. Benjie is driven by a far greater cause than even himself.  I believe it is for the perseverance of our culture for our people and the generations to come.  It is his legacy.     

You will have the opportunity to see the Natibu Dance Academy perform at the Micronesia Mall and the Agana Shopping Center this month.  On March 16, you may buy tickets for the 12:30 p.m. show at the UOG Fine Arts Theater.  The 6:30 p.m. show is already sold out!

Donna Hope Blas is an artist and certified Therapeutic Art Life Coach.  She is also an entrepreneur.  Send comments to: 

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