One, two, step. One, two, step.
Imagine taking these usual dance steps — except there's a pair of bamboo poles clacking and closing at your feet, waiting to trap you between them.
That, in a nutshell, is tinikling.
What is tinikling?
Tinikling is considered one of the Philippines' unofficial national dances, alongside cariñosa. It's usually performed on special occasions like festivals and onstage dance performances, and is a perfect representation of the Filipino character: fun-loving, yet resilient.
Basics of Tinikling
There are many variations of tinikling. The simplest consists of four performers: two dancers (usually one male and one female), and two people holding two bamboo poles parallel to each other. The dancers move in sync with the poles, which strike the ground and each other depending on the rhythm of the music. As the dance goes on, the beat becomes faster and faster, and the dancers have to be just as fast to avoid getting their feet trapped between the poles.
The more complex versions can involve up to four bamboo poles, divided into two pairs arranged in a cross-like formation. With this setup, the dancers have to not only step through each pair of clacking poles, but also dance through the point where all four poles intersect.
Because tinikling is a special dance, tinikling performers wear special clothes for the occasion. Women don a patadyong (thin-fibered blouse with a checkered, loose skirt) or balintawak (dress with wide arched sleeves), while men wear an informal version of the barong Tagalog with comfortable trousers. Both sexes perform barefoot.
No one can say for sure where tinikling came from. One story says that tinikling originated from Leyte province in the Visayas. In Leyte lived a bird called the tikling (a kind of rail), whose movements were so unique and beautiful that the locals decided to pattern a dance after the tikling's movements. That's why the dance is known as tinikling, which literally means "like a tikling."
Another story has a darker take on tinikling's origins. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines and subjugated the natives, the conquerors forced their subjects to work day and night in the rice fields under grueling conditions. If anyone was too slow or weak to work, they were punished by being forced to stand between two bamboo poles used to beat their legs. Sometimes, the poles would have thorns on them, which made the beatings more painful. To minimize the pain, victims would jump up whenever the bamboo sticks clashed together — and so, the art form called tinikling was born.
Traditionally, tinikling performances are accompanied by a rondalla ensemble, which plays instruments from Spain's medieval period. But since tinikling has spread around the world, you can also watch a modified version of the dance in other countries.
For example, in U.S. schools, tinikling is part of Physical Education under the K-12 curriculum. Specifically, it's taught as an aerobic exercise to improve coordination, speed, and rhythm in the dancers. To keep the dance hip and relevant to young students, the U.S. version of the tinikling is usually accompanied by pop music.
Sometimes, tinikling in the U.S. fuses traditional steps with Filipino martial arts for a more dynamic performance. The poles used in the dance may also be made of plastic or wood instead of bamboo. And if P.E. teachers want to shake things up, they can tie elastic bands to the ankles of two students, who alternate between jumping with their feet apart and together to simulate the experience of dancing between bamboo poles.
Other Traditional Filipino Dances
Of course, tinikling isn't the only dance unique to the Philippines.
There's also the singkil, which is similar in many ways to tinikling. Performed by the Maranao people of Mindanao, singkil is the Filipino take on the Indian epic Ramayana. The dancers can perform bare-handed or with fans/scarves for added aesthetic effect. Initially, singkil was performed with only a single pair of bamboo poles, but over time, two pairs of poles became standard for singkil performances. The Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company is probably the best-known performer of this type of dance.
Likewise, cariñosa is the other unofficial national dance of the Philippines. As with many aspects of Filipino culture, cariñosa is of Spanish origin, and is performed by a couple simulating a romance scenario using fans and/or kerchiefs. If you want to see one of these in action, the best known version is from the Bicol Region.
Lastly, pangalay is the most Asian of the Filipino dances mentioned so far. Also known as the "fingernail dance," a pangalay performance is breathtaking to watch, as the performer demonstrates just how dexterous their elbows, shoulders, and wrists are. The dance's name comes from the root word "alay," which means "to offer" and is a possible allusion to the dance's religious origins.
There's more where these traditional dances came from. For your thoughts on tinikiling, on Filipino dances in general, and/or on this post, type them out in the comments below!