The history of Philippine folk dancing incorporates influences from immigrants and conquerors while at the same time maintaining distinctly Filipino roots. Philippine folk dancing is a true reflection of daily life in past centuries while enchanting modern audiences at the same time.
Folk Dance History in the Philippines
Folkloric dance is the history of the people in movement. In some cultures, pale fragments of it survive centuries of invasions and diasporas. In the Philippines, folk dance is a strong and enduring indigenous expression.
Before the recorded history of the Philippines, before the Spanish conquistadors conquered and Christianized the populace, from the earliest occupation of this volcanic archipelago, the people danced. They danced to appease the gods, to curry favor from powerful spirits, to celebrate a hunt or harvest, to mimic the exotic life forms around them. They danced their stories and their shamanic rituals, their rites of passage and their remembered legends and history.
Rural dances include such favorites as the high-stepping Tinikling, which mimics a bird, and the Gaway-Gaway, which features the movements of children pulling the stalks of the gaway roots during a bountiful harvest. The pagan tribes, the Higaonon, Subanon, Bagogo, and others who have inhabited the Philippines for thousands of years, preserved their customs and symbolic dances. Partly through isolation, they kept their culture free from the influence of the waves of immigrants who settled the archipelago over the centuries. Today, tribal dances like Dugso (a dance of gratitude for a good harvest or a male heir, danced with ankle bells), Sohten(an all-male war dance) and Lawin-Lawin(another male dance which mimics a swooping, soaring eagle) are carefully documented and kept alive in performance by Filipino folk dance troupes and cultural institutions, such as the Parangal Dance Company.
The Pagdiwata is a trance dance, featuring women dancers who enact a thanksgiving ritual at the time of the harvest moon. The shamanic figures mime the spirits who possess them and enact a drama that can last for hours.
Muslim traders from the Malay Archipelago reached the Philippines in the 14th century, well ahead of the Europeans. Thier conversion of the populace was a modest affair; they were more interested in commerce than colonization, although they did establish strongholds and convert the local populace to Islam. They also created their own folk dances in the areas where they settled. Singkil is one of the most famous. It depicts the plight of a princess caught in a magical earthquake in a forest. Her faithful servant tries to shield her with a parasol as the princess gracefully dodges falling trees, and is eventually saved by a prince.
Folk dances survived the European invasion, and the dancers adapted imposed Christian belief and culture to their own dances, borrowing court choreography but imbuing it with Philippine spirit. The Maria Clara dances merged Spanish court style (and its stylized courtship conventions) with Philippine exuberance. Maria Clara is the pure and noble heroine of a novel who represents the finest qualities of Filipino womanhood. The dancers wear European 16th-century dress but move to the sounds of bamboo castanets.
The revered folk dances from the lowlands and the hill tribes persist in their traditional form and in contemporary choreography for Philippine ballet companies. Dance is still the theater of identity for the Filipino people, a vibrant and cherished way to tell their story forward with all the rich history of their past.
The Beat Goes On
Traditional dance is still performed at celebrations of births and weddings. Modern folk dance festivals still feature ancient dances performed in costumes of the tribal period of the Philippines. If you are fortunate enough to attend a performance, you will hear percussion instruments such as the gangsa (a small copper gong), a tobtob (brass gong) or a hibat (a gong played with a soft wooden stick), accompanying dances such as the Palok and the Lumagen. Many tribal dances use no external musicians; the dancers generate their own accompaniment with stomping and hand clapping.
Idudu: A Snapshot of Ancient Culture
From the area of Abra, Cordillera comes the Idudu, which is a celebration of the family as the fundamental building block of Philippine culture. Depicting a typical day in the life of a family, the father is shown working in the fields while the mother cares for the children. As soon as the father is done, the mother goes into the fields to continue the work while the father goes back to the house to put the baby to sleep.
A singer usually provides a well-known lullaby during this part of the dance, and it emphasizes the necessity of cooperation and mutual support in the Tingulan family structure.
Maglalatik: The Dance of War
A dance from before the conversion of the Philippines to Christianity is called the Maglalatik. It represents a fierce battle between the Moro tribesmen (wearing red trousers) and the Christian soldiers from Spain (wearing blue). Both groups wear harnesses with coconut shells attached tightly to their bodies which are struck repeatedly with other shells held in the hands.
Originally from the Binan, Laguna province, it is now one of the most common dances in Philippine folk dance performances.
Pandanggo sa Ilaw: Grace and Balance
Derived from the Spanish word fandango, this dance is one of several designed to show off the grace, balance, and dexterity of the performers. Three glasses of wine (or, in modern times, water) are held in hands and on top of the dancers' heads as they move, never spilling a drop.
This is similar to the Binasuan dance from the Pangasinan Province which is done with drinking glasses.
Tinikling: Birds Dancing Over Bamboo
Perhaps the best-known dance in Philippine folk dance history, the Tinikling mimics the high-stepping strut of birds in the Philippine jungles over the bamboo traps the hunters would set for them. Two dancers, usually male and female, gracefully step in and out of crossed sets of bamboo poles being moved together and apart to the music.
The dance gets faster and faster as it goes on, and it has been an audience favorite for Philippine dance companies touring the world. Tinikling illustrates the complexity and rhythmic challenge of expressive and intricate Filipino folk dance forms.
More on Cultural Dances
A recent rebirth in interest for folk and cultural dances has spurred many resources to appear online. You can watch these folk dances on YouTube, read about the cultural history on informational sites, and even learn some of the dances through instructional videos. Check out some of these resources to further develop your knowledge of Philippine folk dancing:
- Sayam Pilipinas: Plenty of information is available through this informational website, where the dances are divided into categories and then explained with the help of pictures.
- Cultural Center of the Philippines: This government-run site showcases Philippine arts and features folk dance companies such as Bayanihan, the National Dance Company of the Philippines, with performance dates and ticket prices.
- Parangal: A Filipino dance company based out of San Francisco which brings the art of the Philippines to American audiences.
- ArtsBridge America: The way that dance and culture intertwine all around the world is explored in this performance curriculum designed to teach about cultural dances of the world.
- Ritwal: A DVD featuring several different types of Philippine folk dancing, this is a visual feast for anyone interested in the genre.
Ancient to Modern Dance History
The history of dancing in the Philippines is a long and rich story that shows how intertwined the dances are with daily life and important events. Learn a few of the dances in order to really increase your understanding and appreciation of this dance genre; while the choreography may seem difficult at first, a little focused study can go a long way.
Folk dances are dances that are developed by people that reflect the life of the people of a certain country or region. Not all ethnic dances are folk dances; for example, ritual dances or dances of ritual origin are not considered to be folk dances. Ritual dances are usually called "Religious dances" because of their purpose.
The terms "ethnic" and "traditional" are used when it is required to emphasize the cultural roots of the dance. In this sense, nearly all folk dances are ethnic ones. If some dances, such as polka, cross ethnic boundaries and even cross the boundary between "folk" and "ballroom dance", ethnic differences are often considerable enough to mention, e.g., Czech polka vs. German polka
They share some or all of the following attributes:
- Dances are usually held at folk dance gatherings or social functions by people with little or no professional training, often to traditional music.
- Dances not generally designed for public performance or the stage, though they may later be arranged and set for stage performances.
- Execution dominated by an inherited tradition from various international cultures rather than innovation (though folk traditions change over time).
- New dancers often learn informally by observing others or receiving help from others.
More controversially, some people define folk dancing as dancing for which there is no governing body or dancing for which there are no competitive or professional institutions. The term "folk dance" is sometimes applied to dances of historical importance in European culture and history; typically originating before the 20th century. For other cultures the terms "ethnic dance" or "traditional dance" are sometimes used, although the latter terms may encompass ceremonial dances.
There are a number of modern dances, such as hip hop dance, that evolve spontaneously, but the term "folk dance" is generally not applied to them, and the terms "street dance" or "vernacular dance" are used instead. The term "folk dance" is reserved for dances which are to a significant degree bound by tradition and originated in the times when the distinction existed between the dances of "common folk" and the dances of the f modern ballroom dances originated from folk ones.
Varieties of European folk dances include:
Sword dances include Longsword dances and rapper dancing. Some choreographed dances such as contra dance, Scottish country dance, and modern Western square dance, are called folk dances, though this is not true in the strictest sense. Country dance overlaps with contemporary folk dance and ballroom dance. Most country dances and ballroom dances originated from folk dances, with gradual refinement over the years.
People familiar with folk dancing can often determine what country a dance is from even if they have not seen that particular dance before. Some countries' dances have features that are unique to that country, although neighboring countries sometimes have similar features. For example, the German and Austrianschuhplattling dance consists of slapping the body and shoes in a fixed pattern, a feature that few other countries' dances have.
Folk dances sometimes evolved long before current political boundaries, so that certain dances are shared by several countries. For example, some Serbian, Bulgarian, and Croatian dances share the same or similar dances, and sometimes even use the same name and music for those dances.
International folk dance groups exist in cities and college campuses in many countries, in which dancers learn folk dances from many cultures for recreation.
Balfolk events are social dance events with live music in Western and Central Europe, originating in the folk revival of the 1970s and becoming more popular since about 2000, where popular European partner dances from the end of the 19th century such as the schottische, polka, mazurka and waltz are danced, with additionally other European folk dances, mainly from France, but also from Sweden, Spain and other countries.
Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia
- Bedara Vesha an hunter dance with drum and whistle blowers are performed in Sirsi, Karnataka, India
- Dollu Kunitha, performed in Karnataka, India
- Attan - The national dance of Afghanistan
- Azerbaijani dances
- Kurdish dance
- Dabke, a folk dance of the Levant
- Thabal chongba
- Assyrian folk dance
- Armenian dance
- Bhangra a Punjabi harvest dance and music style that has become popular worldwide.
- Bihu an Assamese dance celebrating the arrival of spring, traditionally the beginning of the Assamese New Year
- Garba Circular Devotional dance from Gujarat danced the world over
- Ghoomar a traditional Bhil tribe women's folk dance of Rajasthan, India
- Ghumura Dance: War Dance from Kingdom of Kalahandi, Odisha, India
- Kalbelia is one of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan, performed by the kalbelia tribe
- Khigga, a common folk dance among Assyrian people
- Israeli folk dance
- Odori, Japanese traditional dance, often danced in long parades in the streets where anyone can join in
- Buyō, typical dance of the Japanese geishas or dance artists
- Kyushtdepdi - The national dance of Turkmenistan
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