Music

I Watched the 90s Dance Concert and it was Glorious

Getting the Manoeuvres, the Streetboys and Universal Motion Dancers in one show is just as fun as it sounds.
IMAGE Paul John Cana
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It’s been pointed out in various social media posts that January has been a tough month. With a deadly virus fast spreading globally, a volcanic eruption, the threat of World War 3, epic bushfires in Australia, and the death of a beloved sports icon, 2020 sure is off to a rough start. 

But we soldier on and live as best as we can, taking care to have fun and seek entertainment not just as some sort of coping mechanism to help distract us from everything that’s wrong with the world, but perhaps moreso because it’s a way to give disaster and tragedy a big middle finger.

On Friday, the last day of January, people of a certain age made a beeline for the ABS-CBN Vertis Tent in Quezon City for a one-of-a-kind concert. There was music but there were no bands or singers (well, there was at least one of each). Instead it was a dance show that featured some of the most popular dance groups from the 1990s.

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The 90s Dance Concert: Panahon Natin 'To appealed to a very specific audience: those who are fans of groups performing choreographed moves to popular dance hits, and those old enough to have lived through the boom of said dance groups in the last decade before the new millennium. Can’t say I’m part of the first group but I’m certainly in the second. I may have followed bands and musicians in my youth, but it was difficult to avoid groups like the Manoeuvres, the Streetboys and the Universal Motion Dancers (UMD), particularly when it seemed like they were on every variety show and, eventually, even in live shows and concerts.

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The venue was packed with thirty- and fortysomething men and women, many of whom whipped out their camera phones and started recording the minute opening acts Prettier Than Pink and Andrew E came up onstage to warm up the crowd. (We may have not have grown up with digital devices practically attached to our wrists as the youth of today are, but trust that we’re making up for lost time). 

Andrew E, in particular seemed particularly lively and still in command of the audience. The voice was a bit rough, but he still knew how to work the crowd, who knew all the words to his songs like “Andrew Ford Medina,” “Bini B Rocha,” “Humanap Ka Ng Panget,” and “Banyo Queen.” Which just goes to show that you should never underestimate the staying power of once white-hot pop stars with incredibly catchy songs ripped off from other, earlier pop hits.

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Barely had the audience recovered from the Pinoy novelty act when it was time for the main event. A succession of second-tier dance groups performed that eventually led to the marquee acts. As the dance songs that formed the soundtrack of our high school and college years started blaring, the titas and titos started moving closer to the stage. 

The Manoeuvres came out first to Wreck-X-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker “(“Check baby check baby 1234...”) Admittedly, I don’t know their names, except for Joshua Zamora and his brother Jason, who have attempted to carve out careers outside of their dance brotherhood. But there’s no denying that the group is one of the best in the business. Heck, at their peak, they were so good Gary Valenciano got them to dance for him in almost all of his major shows and concerts.

Because most of them are in their mid to late-40s, you’d think that the dancers would maybe phone it in and show signs of physical debilitations, but it seemed to me that all of them were just as bouncy and intense as they ever were.

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The Streetboys, who came next, weren’t that much different. Moving to The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” the fellows that were famous for embelleshing their routine with somersaults and other acrobatics danced as if it was just another TV show guesting back in 1997.

Finally it was UMD’s turn. They came out decked out in all white and moving to Color Me Badd’s “All 4 Love,” Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” and a bunch of other songs. The group most famous for giving the world Wowie De Guzman, who would go on to find success as a TV and movie actor, likewise performed much better than I expected a bunch of fortysomethings would.

Photo by Paul John Cana.
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As if it needed to be said, nostalgia is often big business, and anything that takes us back to the halcyon days of our youth will almost always find an audience. In this case, the songs played at the dance concert are attached to pleasant memories, more often than not. It was a kick to hear them play at full blast, and have dancers who performed them well back in the day do so again today. People came because they wanted to remember those days of sneaking out of the house to go hang out with friends, maybe go to the disco or the club; or maybe they themselves performed those songs during a dance number at school, perhaps hoping that crush would be watching. In any case, memory is a powerful thing—and reliving happy ones most especially—so it was no surprise that this staging of the 90s Dance Concert was a big success.

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Organizers threw in a couple of special treats for the audience; first, a segment that put the spotlight on individual dancers who parlayed their dance exposure into even more success in movies and TV. That included Michael Flores and Joshua Zamora of Manoeuvres, Vhong Navarro and Danilo Barrios of Streetboys, Wowie De Guzman of UMD, and actors Dingdong Dantes and his cousin Arthur Solinap, who were both onetime members of the Abztract dancers. 

And then there was the big climax, when all the other dance groups (lesser known but certainly just as talented), performed a medley of 90s hits one after the other. The groups included Astro, X People, BMG, Wea Boppers (which included actress and one-time Eat Bulaga co-host Gracia), Big Brothers and many others.

The three main acts came back out to do one last medley of their biggest dance hits—including “Macarena” and "Sweet Soul Revue" for Manouevres, “It’s a Beautiful Life,” and "MMMbop" for Streetboys and “Dying Inside” and "Always" for UMD. Towards the end they all sort of just melted iinto each other until it was just a mass of bodies onstage dancing to the Vengaboys’ “Shala Lala.” It’s hard to believe that at one point, the three groups were considered rivals, with hardcore fans arguing with each other about who the best one really is.

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At the risk of copping out, I’m going to say that all of them did their best and it was the fans who really won that night. Organizers ought to consider doing a repeat in a bigger venue.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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