Travel in the Philippines
Dance is an integral part of Filipino culture that dates to the period before Ferdinand Magellan stepped foot in the Philippines. The traditional dances of the Filipinos are vibrant and colorful, capturing the history of the archipelago.
Before the Spanish
Various tribes were scattered across the more than 7,000 islands, each with its own unique traditions and dances. The Igorot tribes lived in the mountains of Luzon; a handful of these tribes still reside in the mountains, having successfully resisted Spanish colonization. Many of the dances have been handed down through the generations. Dance expresses this tribe's love of nature and gratitude to the gods. To imitate the wonders of nature, dancers often swoop their arms like birds and stomp their feet to represent the rumbling of the Earth.
However, many other tribes in other regions are disappearing, and only a few of their dances survive. Thanksgiving, worship and prayers for a bountiful harvest mark the style of these dances.
Voyage to Mindanao
In the 12th century, traders and seafarers came to the Philippines long before the Spanish, bringing the Islamic faith with them. The inhabitants of the southern region converted to Islam, incorporating their new religion into the fabric of their existing culture. The dances of the Muslims, known as Moros, are alluring and colorful. Female dancers wear costumes studded with jewels, while male dancers brandish swords and shields. The Moros use languid arm movements to imitate the world around them such as the wind, the sea and the fish. Each dance is punctuated by the haunting sounds of the kulintangan, a set of small gongs.
Like the Igorots, the Moros were able to resist Spanish rule, which is why many of their dances continue to flourish.
In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to the archipelago, signaling the start of Spanish colonization. However, the Spanish didn't get a foothold in the Philippines until 1565. Three centuries of Spanish rule left an imprint on the Filipinos. Many of them were converted to Catholicism and forced to take Spanish surnames.
During this period, Western culture spread through the islands, including such Western dances as the waltz, fandango and polka. With a little Filipino flare, they quickly became part of the culture. This "new" style of dance was named Maria Clara after the tragic character in Jose Rizal's novel "Noli Me Tangere."
After toiling in the rice paddies, countryside farmers would gather to sing and dance. These dances revolve around everyday items, such as glasses, candles, benches, hats and bamboo poles. Because the dances are a celebration, they are often referred to as "a barrio fiesta." One of the more complicated dances is pandanggo sa ilaw, meaning "dance of lights," which imitates wandering fireflies. To accomplish the illusion, women delicately balance three "tinghoy," or oil lamps, on their heads and palms.
The National Dance
Tinikling, the national dance, is considered the oldest of the Philippine folk dances. The dance, which comes from the countryside, takes its name and movements from the "tinikling" bird as it roams between grass steams, crushes tree branches and avoids traps set by rice farmers. Dancers skip gracefully back and forth while trying to avoid getting their feet caught by two bamboo poles.
There are many tall tales about the dance's origins. According to one story, Filipino farm workers who displeased their Spanish masters had their feet smashed by two bamboo poles. When the poles were apart, the workers would jump to avoid getting hurt. Thus, this dance was born.
Many of these dances survive today, thanks to dance troupes in the Philippines and abroad. Filipino student organizations at many U.S. universities and colleges put on a yearly celebration of cultural dances.