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How a Bird Inspired Dance!


Tinikling Dance

In my last blog I wrote about a magical bamboo dance of the north eastern state of Mizoram called Cheraw. In Philippines there is a similar bamboo dance called Tinikling.

Tinikling is a traditional folk dance of the Philippines which originated in Leyte, one of the Visayan Islands during the Spanish colonial eras. According to legend, this dance was started by the people who worked in the paddies and farms of the Philippines. When the Spaniards conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to ‘haciendas’ (plantation, factories or mines) and lost control of their land. To please the king of Spain, the natives had to work all day. Those who worked too slowly would be sent for punishment, in which the worker had to stand between two bamboo poles which were then clapped to beat the natives’ feet. To escape their punishments, the natives jumped around the poles and from this action, Tinikling dance originated. Tinikling is now the national dance of Philippines. This dance is named after the birds locally known as ‘tikling’. The dancer imitates the movements of ‘tikling’ which the birds perform when they walk on the grass or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. The term ‘tinikling’ literally means 'to perform it tikling like'.

Tikling Bird

The dance consists of two or four bamboo poles each around 6 to 12 feet long. They are held by ‘clappers’ or ‘clickers’ who kneel or sit on the ground. The dancers then imitate the movements of the tikling bird as it would do to avoid being trapped between the bamboos. Traditionally the poles are tapped twice on the ground on the first two beats and then brought together on the third beat. Two or more dancers then weave through the rapidly moving bamboo poles with bare feet. The dancers have to carefully follow the rhythm so as not to get their ankles caught between the bamboo poles as they snap close. The dancers mimic the grace and agility of tikling birds by dancing between the large bamboo poles.

The dancers start the dance with their hands at their hips or clasped behind their backs but as the dance progresses, the tempo of the bamboo poles becomes faster which forces the dancers to come close together as their movements become more frantic. The dancers hold hands during the last part of the dance when the tempo is the fastest. They end the dance by letting go of each other’s hands and stepping out entirely of the moving bamboo poles. During the dance the bamboo poles are used as percussive instruments accompanying the Rondalla music played with string instruments like guitars, octavins, bandurrias or ukuleles.

The female dancers traditionally wear ‘balintawak’ or ‘patadyong’. The ‘balintawak’ are colourful dresses with wide arched sleeves and the ‘patadyong’ is a pineapple fibre blouse paired with checked skirts. The male dancers wear an untucked embroidered shirt called the ‘barong tagalog’. The ‘barong tagalog’ is usually a long-sleeved shirt which is worn with red trousers.

Today there are several modified versions of this traditional Filipino dance around the world- some with increased number of dancers or bamboo poles and some with changed choreography or music. In fact, Tinikling has become so widespread that its often used in American physical education classes as an aerobics exercise. 

Filipino youth all over the world have begun embracing this traditional dance while mixing it up with contemporary music which symbolises a reflection of the past with a look towards the future.

Contemporary version of Tinikling


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