The Philippines enjoys a rich cultural heritage which includes a diverse collection of traditional dances. From the well-known national dance the Tinikling, which pays homage to the movements of a much-loved bird, to dances that reflect elements of daily Philippine life, these folk dances all offer a glimpse into the history of the country.
Traditional Folk Dances of the Philippines
The Philippines has many popular folk dances which have evolved and changed as they have been passed down from generation to generation. Although a particular dance might be performed slightly differently from one region to the next, its remains true to its roots. Here are some of the most popular dances from the region.
The best description of the Itik-Itik is that the steps mimic the way a duck walks, as well as the way it splashes water on its back to attract a mate. According to popular tradition, the dance was created by a lady named Kanang who choreographed the steps while dancing at a baptismal party. The other guests copied her movements, and everyone liked the dance so much that it has been passed along ever since.
The Tinikling is considered by many to be the Philippines' national dance. The dance's movements imitate the movement of the tikling bird as it walks around through tall grass and between tree branches. People perform the dance using bamboo poles. The dance is composed of three basic steps which include singles, doubles and hops. It looks similar to playing jump rope, except that the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles, and the dance becomes faster until someone makes a mistake and the next set of dancers takes a turn.
The Sayaw sa Bangko
The Sayaw sa Bangko is performed on top of a narrow bench. Dancers need good balance as they go through a series of movements that include some impressive acrobatics. This dance traces its roots back to the areas of Pangapisan, Lingayen and Pangasinan.
The Binasuan is an entertaining dance that is usually performed at festive social 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. The dance originated in Bayambang in the Pangasinan province, and though it's usually performed alone, it can also become a competition between several dancers.
The Pandanggo sa Ilaw
The Pandanggo sa Ilaw is similar to a Spanish Fandango, but the Pandanggo is performed while balancing three oil lamps - one on the head, and one in each hand. It's a lively dance that originated on Lubang Island. The music is in 3/4 time and is usually accompanied by castanets.
The Pandanggo Oasiwas
The Pandanggo Oasiwas is similar to the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, and is typically performed by fishermen to celebrate a good catch. In this version, the lamps are placed in cloths or nets and swung around as the dancers circle and sway.
The Maglalatik is a mock war dance that depicts a fight over coconut meat, a highly-prized food. The dance is broken 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, and they slap them in rhythm with the music. The Maglalatik is danced in the religious procession during the fiesta of Biñan as an offering to San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.
The Kuratsa is described as a dance of courtship and is often performed at weddings and other social occasions. The dance has three parts. The couple first performs a waltz. In the second part, the music sets a faster pace as the man pursues the woman around the dance floor in a chase. To finish, the music becomes even faster as the man wins over the woman with his mating dance.
La Jota Moncadeña
The La Jota Moncadeña is adapted by the Filipinos from an old Spanish dance. It's a combination of Spanish and Ilocano dance steps set to Spanish music and castanets. A more solemn version of this dance is sometimes used to accompany a funeral procession, but it is also performed at celebrations.
The Kappa Malong-Malong
The Kappa Malong-Malong is a Muslim-influenced dance. The malong is a tubular garment, and the dance essentially shows the many ways it can be worn. There are men's and women's versions of the dance since they wear malongs in different ways.
The Habanera Botolena
The Habanera Botolena is a strongly flamenco-influenced dance that comes from Botolan, Zambales. It combines Filipino and Spanish steps, and is a popular dance at weddings. It is also considered a courting dance in some situations.
Also known as the Dance of the Doves, the Pantomina mimics the courtship between doves and is often also a courtship dance between the couples that perform it. This dance is an important part of the Sorsogon Kasanggayahan Festival held each October, where it is mainly performed by the elders of the community.
The Cariñosa is a dance made for flirting! Dancers make a number of flirtatious movements as they hide behind fans or handkerchiefs and peek out at one another. The essence of the dance is the courtship between two sweethearts.
Surtido literally means "assortment," and this square dance combines influences of French, Spanish and Mexican dance. Traditionally the Surtido is performed by a head couple accompanied by two other couples who lead all the dancers through various formations that resemble an old-fashioned quadrille.
The Singkil is a dance traditionally performed by single women to attract the attention of potential suitors. Dancers perform a series of graceful movements as they step in and out from between bamboo poles which are rhythmically clapped together. Fans and scarves are often used to enhance the dancers' movements.
The Polkabal shows some European influence in its steps. The dance is composed of nine different steps which include various movements such as fluttering, stepping heel-to-toe, a reenactment of a bull fight, and even a leisurely walk.
The Magkasuyo is a variation of the balse - the one-two-three graceful triple meter that Filipino traditional dance borrowed from the Spanish waltz. It is a formal series of close-step-close movements with a couple facing each other in a courtship configuration. Balse incorporates German and Spanish influence, but the Magkasuyo is the specific invention of Quezon province, a large farming and fishing region southeast of Manila with a rich tradition of outside influences, including Spanish, Malay, and Muslim. A popular song Magkasuyo Buong Gabi (Lovers for the Night) expands on the romantic nature of the dance.
History Through Dance
Dancing plays an important role in Filipino culture, telling their history and preserving traditions through folk dances and music. These dances are entertaining to observe, and even more fun to learn and perform yourself.