Philippine Folk Dance History

Rachel Hanson
History of Philippine Folk Dance

The history of Philippine folk dancing incorporates influences from immigrants and conquerors while at the same time maintaining distinctly Filipino roots. Philippine folk dancing is a true reflection of daily life in past centuries while enchanting modern audiences at the same time.

Folk Dance History in the Philippines

It is impossible to know when exactly dancing became a part of life in the Philippines. Many traditional dances were designed to thank the gods for natural and agricultural events, such as rain and harvests. The dances were performed during festivals and remembrances of past military victories, and still are performed at celebrations of births and weddings in modern times. Many modern folk dance festivals still feature ancient dances performed in costume of the tribal period of the Philippines.

Some dances such as the Palok and the Lumagen are performed with traditional percussion instruments such as the gangsa (a small copper gong), a tobtob (brass gong) or a hibat (a gong played with a soft wooden stick). For many tribal dances there are no external musicians; the dancers generate their own accompaniment with stomping and hand clapping.

Later Dances in Philippine History

More recent dances done in the Philippines derive from historical events such as the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century and the conflicts with the Moors. While certain words and movements from those cultures have been integrated into the dances, the Filipino dance genre remains true to its ancient tradition and roots.

Philippine Folk Dances

From courtship dances to those portraying various elements of nature, many different sub-genres exist within Philippine folk dancing.

Courtship Dances

Several dances, especially those influenced by Spanish dance forms, re-enact the courtship of a man and a woman in all its many aspects from the sublime to the ridiculous. For example, the Maria Clara is named after the main female character in Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere.

Epitomizing virtue and nobility in a Filipina, the dancers wear traditional Spanish-style gowns and flirt coquettishly behind fans. The addition of bamboo castanets lend a distinctly Philippine feel.

Idudu: A Snapshot of Ancient Culture

From the area of Abra, Cordillera comes the Idudu, which is a celebration of the family as the fundamental building block of Philippine culture. Depicting a typical day in the life of a family, the father is shown working in the fields while the mother cares for the children. As soon as the father is done, the mother goes into the fields to continue the work while the father goes back to the house to put the baby to sleep.

A singer usually provides a well-known lullaby during this part of the dance, and it emphasizes the necessity of cooperation and mutual support in the Tingulan family structure.

Maglalatik: The Dance of War

A dance from before the conversion of the Philippines to Christianity is called the Maglalatik. It represents a fierce battle between the Moro tribesmen (wearing red trousers) and the Christian soldiers from Spain (wearing blue). Both groups wear harnesses with coconut shells attached tightly to their bodies which are struck repeatedly with other shells held in the hands.

Originally from the Binan, Laguna province, it is now one of the most common dances in Philippine folk dance performances.

Pandanggo sa Ilaw: Grace and Balance

Derived from the Spanish word fandango, this dance is one of several designed to show off the grace, balance, and dexterity of the performers. Three glasses of wine (or, in modern times, water) are held in hands and on top of the dancers' heads as they move, never spilling a drop.

This is similar to the Binasuan dance from the Pangasinan Province which is done with drinking glasses.

Tinikling: Birds Dancing Over Bamboo

Perhaps the best-known dance in Philippine folk dance history, the Tinikling mimics the high-stepping strut of birds in the Philippine jungles over the bamboo traps the hunters would set for them. Two dancers, usually male and female, gracefully step in and out of crossed sets of bamboo poles being moved together and apart to the music.

The dance gets faster and faster as it goes on, and it has been an audience favorite for Philippine dance companies touring the world.

More on Cultural Dances

A recent rebirth in interest for folk and cultural dances has spurred many resources to appear online. You can watch these folk dances on YouTube, read about the cultural history on informational sites, and even learn some of the dances through instructional videos. Check out some of these resources to further develop your knowledge of Philippine folk dancing:

  • Sayam Pilipinas: Plenty of information is available through this informational website, where the dances are divided into categories and then explained with the help of pictures.
  • Bayanihan: The official website of the national folk dance company of the Philippines, this site, written in English, provides authentic glimpses into folk dance of the Philippines, as well as performance dates.
  • Parangal: A Filipino dance company based out of San Francisco which brings the art of the Philippines to American audiences.
  • ArtsBridge America: The way that dance and culture intertwine all around the world is explored in this performance curriculum designed to teach about cultural dances of the world.
  • Ritwal: A DVD featuring several different types of Philippine folk dancing, this is a visual feast for anyone interested in the genre.

Ancient to Modern Dance History

The history of dancing in the Philippines is a long and rich story that shows how intertwined the dances are with daily life and important events. Learn a few of the dances in order to really increase your understanding and appreciation of this dance genre; while the choreography may seem difficult at first, a little focused study can go a long way.

Philippine Folk Dance History