The Samahan Philippine Dance Company was organized in July 1974 under the direction of Lolita Diñoso Carter, Ph.D. Dr. Carter, a dance instructor at Grossmont College, El Cajon, CA. at that time, volunteered her services to organize a performing ensemble as a contribution to the growing Philippine Community of San Diego. Her knowledge of Philippine Dance and Music came naturally from her experiences growing up in the Philippines and being involved in all facets of Filipino life in a small town including activities of a large extended family, church & its numerous religious observances, school programs & community celebrations specially town fiestas. Formal education in Philippine Folk Dance at the University of the Philippines and classes with Francisca Reyes Aquino, eminent authority on Philippine Folk Dance provided Carter with a solid background in Philippine Folk Dance.
The Samahan Philippine Dance Company started out as part of the Youth Program of the Council of Pilipino-American Organizations of San Diego County. The purpose of the program was to provide Filipino youth opportunity to gain knowledge and appreciation of their cultural heritage. The name Samahan (meaning working together) was selected by the participants who were mostly students from area junior and senior high schools and San Diego State University. The educational and recreational program soon became an amateur performing group besieged with requests for performances from various organizations, institutions and individuals.
In 1975, Ruby Pearl Chiong joined the Dance Company as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. Fresh from the Philippines, she brought with her a rich repertoire of dances reflecting her experiences with the Far Eastern University Dance Troupe and work with several dance companies in Manila. Her knowledge of dances from the mountain provinces of Northern Luzon and the Southern Philippines further enriched the Company's repertoire.
In 1978, Samahan obtained status as a non-profit, public benefit corporation. Its founding directors were Grace P. Blaszkowski, Juanita F. Caccam, Ruby Pearl B. Chiong, Juanita C. Santos, Jesse G. Quinsaat and Lolita D. Carter. Soon after, it obtained its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which was matched by Tawfiq and Rachel Khoury of Pacific Scene, Inc. In 1979, the Dance Company was invited to perform in the inauguration of the East County Performing Arts Center. The performance initiated annual performances in that theater which lasted for 7 years.
In 1979, Samahan initiated the Philippine Folk Festival which was held at the Scottish Rite Memorial Center, Mission Valley, San Diego. The Festival which lasted for six years was a showcase of Philippine Performing Arts in Southern California. The Festival, renamed Philippine Cultural Arts Festival, was revived and moved to an outdoor central location in Balboa Park in 1996 The Santacruzan was a special feature of the 1997 Festival which was held May 3 and 4 in the same location. A growing number and variety of guest performing artists makes the Samahan Philippine Cultural Arts Festival an outstanding showcase of Philippine Cultural Arts and a very important Philippine Community Event.
The musical components of Samahan were formed in 1980 with the assistance of Bayani Mendoza De Leon, well known Filipino ethnomusicologist and composer. Under his expert tutelage, Samahan's Rondalla, Gangsa and Kulintang Musical Ensembles were formed. A grant from Parker Foundation enabled the Company to obtain musical instruments from the Philippines.Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan, master artist/teacher of Kulintang Music became a guest teacher and artist with the Company from 1989-1991 and 1994-97. Born in Datu Piang, Cotabato, he learned his music from early childhood playing with members of his family, relatives and townmates. He introduced Samahan to the authentic music of the Maguindanao people as well as to the music of the Maranao people. Together with the late Musiban Guiabar, a talented Maranao singer, he performed with Samahan at Sherwood Auditorium and the Educational Cultural Complex Theater. In 1995, Kalanduyan was honored as a recipient of the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment of the Arts. He continues to work with Samahan as a guest teacher.
In 1991, George Ragaza joined Samahan as artistic director sharing responsibilities with Ruby Chiong. Under his leadership, Samahan performed at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts for four consecutive years. His collection of authentic and well designed costumes and exquisite accessories greatly enhanced the professional quality of Samahan's performances. He premiered several new dances including "Kaamulan" - A Manobo Rite of sharing in 1993. In 1994, he presented an outstanding Gala at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts which gained him very good reviews by Anne Marie Welsh of the San Diego Union Tribune and Aurora Cudal of the Filipino Press. He also started Samahan's active association with Young Audiences of San Diego.
In 1998 the name was changed to Samahan Filipino American Performing Arts & Education Center. There are four performing groups: Philippine Dance Ensemble, Kulintang Music and Dance Ensemble, Philippine Rondalla String Orchestra, and Polynesian Dance Troupe.
In addition to its busy performance schedule, Samahan has a strong educational and outreach program. It provides free workshops and performances in many area schools and is specially involved in multi-cultural programs. It has conducted two successful Neighborhood Arts Programs in two different neighborhoods in San Diego which are geared to youths at-risk and funded in part by the City of San Diego under a program administered by the Commission for Arts and Culture.
Samahan also provides performances for seniors, festivals and disadvantaged groups. Its theater performances include a Gala Performance, a Christmas Program and a program of original dances based on folk tales and legends of the Southern Philippine Islands. It has performed in many theaters of San Diego County including the City College Theater, Sherwood Auditorium, the Educational Cultural Complex Theater, Mayan Hall, East County Performing Arts Center, Mandeville Auditorium, Joan Kroc Performing Arts Center, and Lyceum Theater. Samahan recently performed at the Seattle Opera House as a featured performer in the Northwest Folklife Festival. The Samahan Philippine Dance Company takes great pride in its contribution to the preservation, development and presentation of tradition-based performing.