Dance Tidbits: Dances of the Philippines

The Philippines is a country of people varied in ethnicity. It is a country that presents its dances through historical contrast. The Philippines is now and has always been influenced by Southeast Asia, Mainland Asia, Spanish culture and Americans. How this effects dance definitely is interesting and innovative. There are many dance categories. Dances can range from geographic locations, social factors and influence of past folk history. In Philippine dancing, the art of movement is essential and is associated with weddings, warding off evil spirits and even the imitation of birds. The Filipinos break down their dances into the following categories: Ritualistic, Mimetic (use of Mime), Life-cycle and Party dances.

Out of all the countries I’ve written about, I must admit, I have never been so fascinated by dances of a country. The Philippines, it seems, has one dance after another, so animated, colorful and totally creative. All of them are different in style, and there is a consistent element of surprise in each and every one of them. One must be agile and almost acrobatic to pull off some of the moves in these dances. Philippines dances are intriguing and so diversified, I am sure, unless you’ve been there, you’ve never seen anything like it and it would take lots of lessons to learn how to do the minimal basic steps.

The Itik-Itik – This dance not only mimics the way a duck walks but also the way it splashes water on its back to attract a mate! Now that is really something.

Sayaw sa Bangko – The words mean, dance on top of a bench. The dance is performed on top of a narrow bench. Dancers need good balance as they go through a series of movements that are just short of acrobatic!

The Tinikling – This dance is considered to be Philippines’ national dance. The movements of this dance imitate the movement of the tickling bird as it walks around through tall grass and between tree branches (interesting details). The dancers perform this dance with the use of bamboo poles. It is a dance comprised of three basic steps, singles, doubles and hops. It is similar to jump rope except the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles. The dance becomes faster and faster until someone makes a mistake. Then the next set of dancers take their turn.

The Binasuan – This is an entertaining dance that is performed mostly on festive occasions like weddings and birthdays. Dancers carefully balance three half filled glasses of rice wine on their heads and hands as they gracefully spin and roll on the ground. It is usually performed alone but it can also become a competitive dance between several dancers.

The Pandanggo sa llaw – This dance is similar to a Spanish Fandango (an 18th century dance

similar to the Bolero) but the Pandanggo is performed while balancing three oil lamps – one on the head and one on each hand. It’s a lively dance (as you can imagine dancing while balancing an oil lamp)!!! Like the Bolero, the music is danced in 3/4 time and is accompanied by castanets.

The Pandanggo Oasiwas – This dance is similar to the Pandanggo sa flaw except it is typically performed by fishermen to celebrate a good catch. In this dance, the lamps are placed in cloths or nets and swung around as dancers circle and sway.

The Maglalatik – This is a mock war dance that is all about a fight over coconut meat, a highly-prized food. This dance is broken down into four parts: two devoted to the battle and two devoted to reconciling. The men of the dance wear coconut shells as part of their costumes, as they slap them in rhythm to the music. This is considered a religious, ritualistic dance as an offering to the patron saint of farmers.

The Philippine Jota – This was considered one of the most popular dances during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines up to the 20th century. It was originally performed at weddings, parties and baptismal ceremonies during the Spanish period in the Philippines. The Filipinos loved this lively dance and developed different versions of it. These versions are combinations of Spanish and Filipino dance steps and music. The main difference between the Philippine and Spanish Jotas are the use of unstrung bamboo castanets. Variations the the Jota differ from region to region. For example, the Jota Paragua originated from a heavy Castilian (Spanish) influence. The zapateados (footwork), cubrados (curved arms), and Sevillana (flounced and ruffled) style of dress are definitely a heavy influence from the Spanish. The ladies wave their manton (decorative shawl), while the gentlemen keep brisk pace with bamboo castanets. The music is an alternating fast and slow tempo similar to Spanish dances like Flamenco, Bolero and Fandango.

I can go on for quite awhile telling you about the many fascinating dances that come from the Philippines but I think you get the idea. It is also a country of modern dance, hip hop, jazz, disco and ballet. It has certainly embraced our American dance styles just as much as all of their other cultural dances. I might add that The Tinikling is always a crowd pleaser as far as folk dances go and continues to be not only an art form but an aerobic form of exercise for physical education classes both in the United States and of course, the Philippines. It is outstanding in promoting better physical movement, hand coordination, foot speed and rhythm technique.

I must end by telling you about an extraordinary and popular Filipino event that developed in the Philippines and now takes place in the United States. It is called Pilipino Cultural Nights. It is entirely a student-run production that focuses on showcasing and celebrating Filipino culture. It does this through acting, song and dance. Though the play may center around the Filipino community, the themes and messages conveyed transcend cultural boundaries while paying homage to the Filipino culture. I believe it usually showcases in the spring and can be seen throughout various colleges all over the United States.

Bravo to the Filipino people for keeping their incredible culture alive and sharing with the world!

Thought Of The Week:

“When you step into being something different, you open up the space for that to exist, where before there was no space for it to be.” – Dr. Dain Heer


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website