A few days before Tita King quietly left us, I visited her. This time I was with Helen Marte from San Francisco, PWU Alumna and great friend and fan of Tita King.
Tita King was asleep seemed to have lost some weight and a bit pale.
n the past, I would always announce my visit with an overly cheerful “Hi Tita King. Si Suzie po! How are you? Have Kwento” Her faithful Maret would repeat the same line and she would either clap, raise her hand or respond with a gurgling sound words of which only Maret or Juliet would understand. That day, I saw none of those gestures nor heard the funny sound. I feared that the end was near. I looked at Helen and she understood my fears. “LOVE YOU TITA KING” I whispered as we said our good byes.
Dr. Kasilag was Bayanihan’s Music director and group tour leader when I first traveled with the dance company as a performer in 1968. She was strict, a disciplinarian and spoke forcefully and straight to the point. We respected her even if we the new and young members were afraid to cross her path.
First stop Hong Kong - I was penalized for announcing that rehearsals were canceled so we all could go shopping – that evening I was called to her room. After giving me a piece of her mind I was charged a fine. “Huh”? I asked – trying to look like an innocent victim of practical jokers “why Tita King”? She replied – “so you will stop rumor mongering” Ashamed but learned my first Lesson: 1. Always get your facts straight.
A straight shooter Tita King drives her point loud and clear. She never beats around the bush. In choral practices with the group, she listens with her eyes close until she detects an off key, “yawa” she jumps up, identifies the members surprisingly and advice – just open your mouth do not sing. To avoid embarrassment we would practice, learn and master the song seriously. 2nd lesson: To be world class there is no room for mediocrity.
During the 13 months we were together on tour Tita King kept us centered, her sense of humor and wisdom helped us beat homesickness, helped us become better artists and better persons. One day, after distributing our weekly allowance she reprimanded me for receiving additional allowance from my parents – she said simply “Live within your means – you don’t need those trinkets “ - that gave me the 3rd lesson: Live simply, separate wants from needs.
Tita King was humble, lovable and huggable. We always found her funny and talked about this in a loving way. She was childlike in so many ways. Again during that first tours with Bayanihan, an embarrassing and unforgettable thing happened during the plane ride, I took off my shoes and slept though out the flight – We were roused from our sleep when we reached our destination where we were to connect fast with another flight. I couldn’t put back my shoes, left behind and helpless. Tita King came back for me, grabbed my overnight bag, one shopping bag and my shoes. She was fuming, I was sure of that but she laughed all the way down the stairs to the tarmac with me beside her barefooted. Of course, since then and countless travels after, lesson learned – maintain your poise never remove your shoes while on flight. 4th
She also collected all sorts of souvenirs during the tours – including a collection of leaves since we wanted to be the “teacher’s pet” we alternately volunteered to carry her bags. Towards the end of the world tour her bags became heavier. Out of curiosity, we took a peek and what do we see – STONES. So we tested her and asked one time – “Ang bigat ng collection mo Tita King – Ano it”. Ha Ha Ha – He He He – she replied – “mga bato – ano pa?”
Keep your sense of humor be truthful and don’t be too full of SELF.
In 1998, I returned to Bayanihan this time as its Executive Director. Tita King was Bayanihan’s President up to the time of her death.
I had the honor to sit with her as Trustee of the Foundation, member of the working committee of the Board, as member of the Artistic team of the dance company where I now brainstorm with her and as co-signatory in everything.
This time I saw Tita King from another perspective. Discovered more of her generosity, her humility, her selflessness and sense of gratitude. She was constantly grateful for many things and to many friends... She called Tita Helen our Chairman Emeritus and founder – “Ma Cherie”. She often told me that she was National Artist because of Bayanihan. I assured her it was Bayanihan that owed her and her co-pioneers a lot. Open to new things she took in every idea we proposed with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. She never stopped growing. Lesson 6: Life is continuous learning and growing. If you must grow, continue to learn, open your mind.
After Tita King’s not so successful eye operation, I accompanied my daughter Marielle to interview her for a class assigned paper on National Artists. She asked Tita King “What makes Kasilag great”- Tita King answered “Kasilag is not great but her life is ruled by the 4 d’s slowly she detailed My Final lessons:
Decision to live by the first 3 D’s
Thank you Dr. Kasilag, our dearest Tita King, Thank you for sharing your gifts, thank you for your loyalty to the institution we all love – for supporting me and Bayanihan all the way.
Thank you for your music and the songs that Bayanihan sing – most of all the examples that you have shown.
You will continue to be my “Alitaptap”. This is the title of one of my favorite Kasilag work - We will be guided by your light or rather by the fire and passion you have shown in setting the standards in the pursuit of our work and life’s mission.