The Tinikling is the official national dance of the Philippines and one of the oldest dances in the archipelago. It is characterized by the movements of one or more dancers between two bamboo poles while these are beaten in a certain rhythm against each other and onto the ground.

Where Does The Tinikling Come From?

The Tinikling is an indigenous folk dance whose origin lies on the island of Leyte. The name refers to a bird that is known in the Philippines as Tikling, a term that is commonly used for a whole range of Squacco species. The dance as we know it today is inspired by the bird’s showy gait when it struts through the grass with its long stilts and the way it runs through branches or dodges bamboo traps set up by rice farmers.

There are several stories about the origin of this dance. One of the most common ones is that it had arisen among field workers. When the Spanish controlled the Philippines, the indigenous locals often worked on the huge plantations and haciendas of the colonial rulers. If someone worked too slowly, he had to fear harsh penalties. For the punishment, people had to stand between two spine-tipped bamboo poles, which were then struck against the feet of the offenders. These tried to escape the painful punshes by hopping over the rods. When the workers returned to their communities, they started training to escape the blows of the bamboo poles. Out of this, first a competition evolved, then a skill, and finally a dance. Later, the movements of the Tikling bird were incorporated and the fixed sequences of steps emerged that determine the dance in its present form.

How The Bamboo Dance Works

There are mainly four people taking part in the dance – two male and two female dancers. While one couple takes the dance position, the other couple takes over the handling of the bamboo sticks. There is one person on either end of the sticks kneeling on the floor and facing each other. The bamboo poles are approximately 9 feet (about 2.75 m) long and are lying parallel next to each other on the floor in the beginning.

The Tinikling contains five specified step sequences which are determined by the beat of bamboo sticks. All dance steps consist of combinations of only three basic four-four steps. These are called singles (single steps), doubles (double steps) and hops (hopping steps).

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In the first four step sequences, the dancers are on opposite sides of the bamboo poles while they start the last sequence on the same side. The rods thereby form an additional beat-defining instrument. The couple on the floor moves the poles in a fixed pattern and according to the rhythm of the music. They first hit the tubes onto the ground before they knock them against each other. These two movements alternate for the entire length of the dance.

When the bamboo holders beat the poles onto the ground, the dancers hop into the space between the bars. Before the rods hit against each other, the players must have completed their movements so that their feet do not come in between.

During the course of the dance, the rhythm gets faster and harder. The sound of the beating rods gets louder and the movements of the dancers gets faster, which increases the challenge to “escape” the bamboo sticks and makes it more fun and exciting for the audience.

Once a couple makes a mistake, the dancers swap roles. The first couple takes over the handling of the bamboo sticks whereas the other couple assumes the dancing position.

Traditional Dancing Costumes

The performers usually wear traditional clothing for dancing the Tinikling. While the Balintawak (a popular dress) and the Patadiong (a traditional skirt) are common for girls, boys wear a Barong Tagalog (traditional festive garments) together with long red pants. Both the men and the women perform the dance barefoot.

Find more music and dances from the Philippines here.

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Tinikling (Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija) by Shubert Ciencia, licensed under CC BY 2.0