(Short Story) The Day the Dancers Came by: Bienvenido Santos
(Reaction) Snooze, memory by: Antonio Conejos
Santos's story refers in its title to a much awaited arrival but in actuality the story concerns a departure, a slow, leaking loss which the two primary characters, Fil and Tony, have been suffering for years. The Day the Dancers Came is concerned with the failure of preservation.
The theme of preservation is reflected in the setting, primarily in the apartment building of Fil and Tony,
there had been no changes done or any repair made as if there was a tacit contest among all the apartments in the building as to which one was going to survive longest, untouched.
In conjunction with the setting, the characters also are preoccupied with preservation. Fil literally dreams of perfect preservation, of keeping things and people in their immaculate, innocent state,
Sometimes in his sleep, Fil dreamed of preserving the stages after infancy.
Even Tony's disease is a failure to preserve his origins, or at least the physical manifestation of his origin. As the illness progresses, Tony becomes to look more white than Filipino,
All over Tony's body, a gradual peeling was taking place... 'I'm becoming a white man,' Tony had said once.
This loss of identity is the reason for Fil's preoccupation with preservation, he fears he has lost his link to his home country. Even such simple joys as remembered songs are lost to him,
Besides, popular songs he had since learned in America, kept crowding out the songs of his country.
The primary medium of preservation is memory. However, as the characters grow older memory inevitably weakens, the preserved threatens to go rank like food left in the sun;
What had happened in between? A weariness, a mist covering all things.
Something is needed to aid memory because memory fails, as Fil bitterly puts it,
what took care of that moment if memory didn't? Like time, memory was often a villain, a betrayer.
Thus Fil is enamored with recording devices as they are a means to supplement memory, to enable preservation.
In contrast to recording devices, a mirror does not aid preservation, it cannot recall the past, but only shows the present. There is some irony then that Fil, who is always looking to preserve memory, calls his sound recorder a magic sound mirror,
I'm going to keep their voices, their words, and their singing and their laughter in my magic sound mirror.
This is a most telling line from a most plaintive character. In mingling a device which preserves memory (recorder) with one that can only show the present (a mirror) Fil is attempting a fusion of the past and the present, he is literally trying to live his past in the present.
The quest to visit the dancers, and entertain them at his apartment, is a manifestation of Fil's quest to preserve a memory; specifically of the dancers, but in general just to preserve the sounds, heritage and flavor of his homeland. And in that preservation he hopes that he might live again in a present where he is back home.
This was home. This was homelessness., is how Fil describes being tongue tied and awkward before the dancers at their hotel.
The final image of the story, of Fil drowning,
sleep overpowered him like a wave that drew his body into a darkness where he floated on and on in a shoreless sea
is is a mingling of this past and present. Fil is drowning in his present, just as his brother drowned in the past,
an elder brother who, later, drowned in a sudden squall.
Ultimately what is preserved for Fil is only pain and loss, on that the present and the past are in agreement.
The Day the Dancers Came is often cited as a great formalist story, there's irony and tension and objective correlatives and all the other elements formalists are keen on if you care to look for them.
What isn't often commented about Santos's story (but is often heard from students) is that it's dull as ditchwater. Really, the story is boring and a slog to get through.
I read The Day the Dancers Came for the first time in first year college and then reread it several times years later for this reaction; but my opinion on it hasn't changed. And thus, in a sentiment which perhaps the story would approve, both my present and my past are in agreement.