Tinikling ~ The National Dance of the Philippines
Traditional Dances from the Philippines
This is the most popular and best known of the Philippine dances and honored as the Philippine national dance. The dance imitates the movement of the tikling birds as they walk between grass stems, run over tree branches, or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. Dancers imitate the tikling bird’s legendary grace and speed by skillfully maneuvering between large bamboo poles. Tinikling means “bamboo dance” in English.
Considered as one of the oldest dances from the Philippines, this dance was originated in the islands of Leyte in the Visayan Islands. People of Leyte describe the tikling bird as one of the most unique in its movements - walking around and between the tree branches and some grass stems. This bird was named “tikling” from which the Tinikling dance got its name. Because of the creativeness of the people, they imitate this bird by using bamboo poles.
Before this dance became what it is today, it went through an evolution of sorts. Different stories of the Tinikling’s origin have been passed down through oral histories and folklore.
One of the stories of the Tinikling’s origin may be made up, a fact, or part of a legend. The story says that the Tinikling started by the people who worked on the fields and paddies in the Philippines. When the Spaniards came from Spain and conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to the haciendas. The natives lost control of their land because they were under the enconmienda system, an economic system that is largely based on rural and agricultural operations of large farmlands administered by caretakers for the King of Spain. The natives had to work all day to please the Spaniards. The natives could have completely lost control of their destiny under an exploitative system. The people of the Philippines worked in the fields and paddies for nearly four hundred years (1500-1898).
The people who worked too slowly would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. Their punishment was to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove. Sometimes, the sticks would have thorns sticking from their segments. The poles were then clapped to beat the native’s feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment. This type of punishment became a cycle - the more bruised the person’s feet were, the less work he would do, the less work he would do, the more punishment.
The matrix for the dance was probably laid out when the workers would return home with their feet bruised and bleeding from the punishment. It is said that from a distance, the people who were receiving the beating looked like the heron. And this is one of the stories about the Tinikling’s origin.
The punishment later became the dance it is today. When the Tinikling is danced, there is music of plucked strings in Iberian-influence staccato interspersing with tremolos and kept in time with double stepping sway balances. By practicing to escape the bamboo sticks during punishment, the Tinikling soon became a challenge, an art, and a dance.
The Tinikling is performed on certain Sundays in the Philippines. One can watch the nimble feet jump between the bamboo sticks hoping to escape its ferocious bite. But now that it is no longer a punishment, the sticks are smooth and the clapping is gentle. The Tinikling has truly become a dance.