Fil-Am shines light on ‘indigenous culture’ via dance, performance art

Samantha Penaflor Dizon or Sammay in a street performance. CONTRIBUTED

Samantha Penaflor Dizon or Sammay, 25, thought she could be a US President and an international  pop-star. Right now she’s definitely on her way to becoming an international performing artist.

An artist, choreographer, producer and educator Sammay founded the URBAN x INDIGENOUS in 2015. It is an intergenerational, multidisciplinary arts festival “which seeks to explore, challenge, and celebrate our notions of ‘indigeneity’ with/in our urban environments.”


Sammay is a company member of Embodiment Project “mission is to challenge systemic inequity by exploring themes of trauma, healing, womanist histories, race, and gender role dissolution through street dance, live song, spoken word, and documentary theater.”

Performing arts


Sammay attended UC Berkeley, graduating with BA in Media Studies and minors in Dance and Performance Studies and Global Poverty and Practice. In July 2014 she attended the Urban Bush Women (UBW) Summer Leadership Institute at Tulane University on scholarship where she met prominent women performers such as Jawole Willa Jo Zolar, the founder of UBW, Kimberley Richards and Amara Tabor-Smith, who later became her mentor.

Tabor-Smith is a choreographer whose performances celebrate and retell the African American women’s histories and stories.

Choreographer, performance artists Samantha Penaflor Dizon or Sammay. CONTRIBUTED

Sammay has performed in San Francisco/Yelamu Bindlestiff Studio, Brava Theater (with Medea Project), Dance Mission Theater, and Red Poppy Art House. She was the featured artist at the Dance Mission Theater – D.I.R.T. (Dance in Revolting Times) Festival Counter Pulse – Performing Diaspora in 2016 and at the Asian Art Museum – APAture 2016: Here. She has performed in New Mexico, Hawaii, New York, Canada and the Philippines.




Like many Filipino Americans who are now consciously working to be recognized for their diversitu, Sammay uses the term “Pilipinx.” Although she does not know who first coined the word, she explains that “x” is used instead of o/a for inclusivity and to reject the gender binary.


“We use Pilipinx to make visible those who are non-binary/non-gender conforming or otherwise self-identified as queer,” says Sammay.


Born and raised up in Carson, California, a diverse environment and with Filipino culture around her, Sammay did not need to hide or explain herself, yet she also felt “different.”

“When you grow up seeing white folks on the television and your favorite songs were being performed by white boy bands and white pop-stars, you get the sense that you perhaps don’t come from the same place,” Sammay says.

She first had a taste of discrimination and racism in the middle school.

“Each racially affiliated group had a place to hang out. The white kids were hanging out at the stage (a.k.a. where the “cool” people hung out). I didn’t understand social organization at that time — why I was relegated to the ‘Asian Table’ — especially because I didn’t consider myself Asian at the time but a Pacific Islander,” Sammay recalls.

Sammay remembers a tall white guy– one of the “cool kids” making “chinky eyes” to mock her for being Asian. Sammay has big eyes in person.

“I considered it bullying. I internalized the shame of it. It was an ugly feeling – and it made me believe I was ugly,” Sammay says.

Working harder

Sammay admits that she has to work ten times harder because she has no technical training in Western dance styles, like ballet, aside from being a Filipino/Asian woman.

Although there are paid opportunities within institutions calling for someone who has a B.F.A. or M.F.A. in Dance or a related field, Sammay could not participate because she lacks academic qualification; but this never deters her.

Sammay’s art revels in the discovery of “un/known” intersections between dance theatre, performance art and performance ritual.

Four years ago, Sammay did summer work with Gawad Kalinga (GK) in the Philippines. She started a youth performing arts program at GK Alapan, Imus, Cavite.

Arts that save lives

Sammay says that the art world prioritized all things white and Western. She maintains that art must tell “our stories as peoples and truths to be told no matter how inconvenient these maybe.” She advices artists to represent their lineage with sincerity and be in relationship with the land and its original peoples in a smeaningful way.

She is inspired by her former director, Rhodessa Jones, who said: “I’m not interested in art for art’s sake. I’m interested in art that saves lives.”

Her recent travels to the Philippines in December 2016 and 2017, to attend the 80th birthday of her maternal grandmother, Lola Cion became an “ancestral journey.” Lola Cion died in October 2016.

During the trip she did community immersions, teaching and performances in Manila, Iloilo, Benguet and Bicol. She also visited her grandmother’s and her ancestors’ graves.

Sammay also met her relatives to connect and cultivate familial relationships with.

“Simply being on your ancestral land, breathing in the air that your ancestors once breathed is huge for the spirit,” Sammay explains.

She also did research into her tribal lineages (Bikol, Kapampangan and Ilokano) and had the opportunities to engage with indigenous communities, which has been integral to her understanding of her “indigeneity as a Pilipinx.”

The artist as a Fil-Am Woman

“I am a working artist, my art is my livelihood. I have had to learn how to heal my relationship with money so that I can be a sustainable working artist. I have business practices in place that feel good to me, that come from a holistic worldview and not simply a capitalistic sense of for-profit-and-more-profit exchange.”

Sammay at work. CONTRIBUTED

As a woman, Sammay says:

“I am an unapologetic first-generation brown femme, healer, artist, activist, producer, educator, loud, proud, brown, femme, Pilipinx navigating the discourse between decolonization and spirituality through art and healing practices. Daughter of the Bikol, Kapampangan, and Ilokano lineages, I seek to unravel the layers of deceit we inherit through colonization.”


Upcoming performance


Sammay will set to perform at H.O.L.Y. (Hate Often Loves You) CITY, which is an investigation of what it means to cultivate “sanctuary” in San Francisco/Yelamu.

The performance will invoke ritual, performance, and community gatherings “to bring light to these often overlooked stories and give voice to the ones who now watch over us.”


H.O.L.Y. CITY will have its first showing on March 19-25, 2018 at A.C.T. Costume Shop and is scheduled to premiere on June 15-17, 2018 at SOMArts Cultural Center during URBAN x INDIGENOUS IV: Unite the Tribes.

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TAGS: dance, Filipina American choreographer, H.O.L.Y. (Hate Often Loves You) CITY, performance art, Rhodessa Jones, Samantha Penaflor Dizon, Sammay, URBAN x INDIGENOUS
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