I was born in Ibajay, Alklan, Philippines and came to the United States at the age of six. I was encouraged to “blend in” and become “Americanized”. I learned to speak fluent English and lost my Filipino accent and forgot the Tagalog language in the process. My parents continued to speak to me in Tagalog as I still understood them but I was shy and lacked confidence in conversing in Tagalog. So I grew up talking back in English to my parents. By middle school I forgot what being Filipino was about. Then my parents sent my sister and I to the Philippines for two months in the summer. I started to relearn the Tagalog language again and reconnected with my Filipino culture. It was my sister, Renalyn, who first introduced me to Filipino folk dance in high school at Lowell High. The summer trip to the Philippines and joining a filipino folk dance company not only improved my relationship with my sister but it jump-started my awareness of filipino culture and the search for my identity. My sister and I have now danced many years together on stage, spent a lot of time together practicing and even shared the same friends, which has made us closer and as good friends till this day. I attribute my love for dancing and these 26 years of folk dancing to my sister, who without her opening the door for me, I would not be who I am today!
I have been dancing Filipino folk dance since 1994 and my first show was with Barangay Dance Company in 1995. This was when I met Eric Solano and ever since then he has become my longtime dance partner and friend for life. I joined Parangal when Eric founded the dance company in 2008.
Being part of Parangal has been an amazing experience thus far. From weekend dance performances to dance tours, we have had such great experiences and memories. It has been a blessing to share the stage with Parangal and to travel internationally to meet so many other diverse dance groups!
I previously served as Parangal’s Dance Director and in 2019, I transitioned as Executive Director. I hope to contribute to this dance company and help lead to fulfil our mission. In addition to my administrative role within Parangal, I also serve as the dance company's nurse when we go on international dance tours or local performances or for any “boo-boo’s” during our rehearsals.
I work fulltime as a pediatric home health nurse and I am a mother of two beautiful and energetic boys. As busy as life can be, I continue to dance and keep an active role within Parangal because it is what keeps me balanced and keeps me happy, as well as keeping me physically healthy! Dancing is an integral part of me, as I use dance as a great outlet for stress and reconnecting myself to my culture and history. Parangal has become family to me. It is an extraordinary feeling to be part of a dance company in which all members are driven and have such passion in the same mission to inspire, advocate, preserve, educate and discover. Eric Solano has been Parangal’s force of inspiration for why we continue to do what we do in Parangal. His creative genius to masterplan his ideas and bring them to life on stage is amazing. His love and passion for dance and sharing the awareness of indigenous people in the Philippines is inspiring. He is also a very humble and dear friend that will always be there for you.
Despite the recent challenges in 2020 and in the present day, Parangal has continued to thrive through these hurdles and it’s overwhelmingly heartwarming to see. I am so proud of what Parangal has overcome and I am also very excited to see what their next milestones will be and what their future generation will do! I am honored to be a part of this journey with Parangal!
Ritchel Tan Gazo
Parangal, Executive Director
Ritchel earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from SFSU and her Masters in Science in Nursing as a Clinical Nurse Specialist from UCSF. She has been working for Kaiser Permanente as a nurse for 15 years.