During his college days at San Jose
State University, Jeff who was born and raised in San Jose, had
classmates who folk danced for Paru-Paru Filipino dance troupe. They
often encouraged him and his friends to learn folk dancing. But in the
mid to late 70's he swore he would never do it, finding himself mostly
into jazz, R&B music and the disco dance crazes like the "east and
west coast swings" and the "hustles" that followed John Travolta in
"Saturday Night Fever".
In June of 1979, Jeff made his
first trip to the Philippines. A journey he took with his maternal
grandparents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Not having
very high expectations of his parents homeland coupled with an
ignorance of the life and people there, Jeff promised to follow one
rule, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Every experience during
those 30 days exposed him to the beauty and warmth of the people living
in the province. Of all his discoveries though, Jeff met someone
special, Annie Vera Cruz and returned to marry her 4 months later. It
was then that Jeff's world changed. By 1982 their first child was born,
a daughter they named Kyla. Her brother Cheyne, arrived 6 years later.
Since Annie was born and raised in the Philippines, she was introduced
to folk dances at a very young age. In elementary school, learning folk
dances was part of the physical education curriculum. So it was Annie
who gave Jeff his first taste of Philippine folk dance steps. In the
early 90's, Jeff and Annie would teach Kyla, Cheyne and other children
from their hometown organization, favorite folk dances to perform at
annual events. In early 1999, the pair decided to enroll Kyla in
Kaisahan of San Jose Dance Company. Within weeks, the entire family
became involved in the dance troupe with dance recitals locally.
In December of 2002, Jeff and his
family left Kaisahan to pursue other interests, a difficult decision since folk dancing had already become a passion in their lives. But soon after, Mario and Rose Vista approached them and other folk dance enthusiasts to perform at their 25th wedding anniversary celebration. This performance in March 2003, captured the audience with excitement and energy. What was only going to be a dance performance "only for the fun of it", inspired this small group to pursue their passions further. Jeff approached his folk dance collegue Justin Mambaje for artistic direction and choreography and together with a group of 15 dance enthusiasts and their families formed what is now
Hiyas Philippine Folk Dance Company. The group recognized an enormous amount of
talent and resourcefullness offering a unique approach in presenting folk dance and music. Members share a philosophy to encourage and educate the community with the understanding and appreciation of its mission to promote, preserve and present the Philippine culture through its dances and music, cultural treasures to those who desire them. The Company endeavors to present the dances and music of the Philippines authentically inspiring others to do the same.
Challenged by Justin Mamaje's artistic and musical direction, the Company illustrates a vibrant and innovative approach to Filipino folk dancing. Youthful choreography, an array of exquisite costumes, live musical accompaniment through Hiyas Music Ensemble established 18 months after the Company's inception brings life to the great works of Francisca Reyes Aquino, the Philippine Dance Society and all documented works of Philippine folk dances anc music.
Hiyas Philippine Folk Dance Company and Hiyas Music Ensemble continues to function as a team with honesty and respect for one another providing to its members and anyone in the community, tools needed for the development of skills in presenting their best in folk dance. The Company administers a safe environment where artists can be nurtured with opportunities to discover themselves, develop self confidence and attain a sense of
belonging in the community. Grants from the City of San Jose, Arts Council Silicon Valley, the Filipino Youth Coalition and private donations allows the Company to stand out in the Bay Area as the favorite and most sought after dance and music ensemble in the South Bay, an inspiration to the community for its ability to recognize, cultivate and cherish the talent possessed by each of its performing artists.
Jeff is employed with Perot Systems
as an Information Systems Associate for O'Connor Hospital since 1991.
He not only provides leadership for Hiyas as Founder and Director, Jeff is also a lead performing artist. He hopes Hiyas'
endeavors would be carried down from one generation to the next.
Lastly, Jeff expresses, "It is a great blessing to dance as a family,
not just with my immediate family but with our extended families of
performing dance artists and musicians. We are truly a partnership united by the same goals and aspirations of providing the best in Philippine folk dance and music. Sharing and promoting the beauty of our culture with artistic
integrity and authenticity makes us all proud to be Filipino".