Folk Dances in the Philippines
The Philippines’ multifaceted history from years of colonisation paved the way for the interestingly beautiful traditional dances in the country, with hints of Hispanic, European, and Asian cultural influences. Each region has its own unique dance variations that are staged during festivals and local shows. Although today’s popular folk dances have evolved, they still honour our cultural roots.
Filipino folk dances are colourful, beautiful, and vibrant. The movement, dress, and music reveal the unique Filipino culture and are important in building a national Filipino identity. Most dances in the country were inspired by everyday activities, such as working in the fields and harvesting rice, as well as celebrations such as feasts, weddings, and births. Philippine folk dances consist of five major suites, namely Cordillera, Maria Clara, Muslim, Lumad (tribal), and Rural.
Each of the suites involves a repertoire of folk dances that hail from different locations in the country.
Folk Dances in the Philippines are usually linked to rituals for a good harvest, health, prayers for peace, spiritual and religious beliefs, safety in war and tribal or provincial way of life.
The “Banga” (ba-nga), is a round or spherical jar made of clay, used for fetching water and mostly adopted by the northern region of the Philippines. Banga dance is an interpretative dance performed by Kalinga women showing their agility in balancing the bangas on top of their heads while toddling through rice paddies and mountain paths; a daily routine to fetch water from the mountain springs.
One of the ethnic dances of the Bukidnon tribes is the Manobo tribe dance called “Bubudsil.” It’s a dance whereby a wooden pole is used to simulate the pounding of harvested rice.
When the Kalinga tribe gather to celebrate a happy occasion like the birth of a first-born baby boy, a wedding, or a budong (peace pact), the Kalinga Festival Dance (Tachok) is performed. The dance imitates birds flying in the air. Music is provided by gangsa, or gongs, which are usually in a group of six or more.
Maranao people from around the Lake Lanao have a royal manner of “walking” called the Pagapir. The ladies of the royal court perform this dance for important events and to show their good upbringing. It involves a graceful manipulation of the Aper (apir) or fan while doing the “Kini-kini” or small steps.
“Fingernail dance” is the sobriquet given to a South East Asian dance known as Pangalay. This “traditional” dance is said to have originated from Sulu islands located in the Philippines, and is said to have been created by the Tausug people.
Sagayan is the true and ancient dance that predates Islam and Christianity of Maguindanaon people from Cotabato, Mindanao, Philipppines. It is performed as a ritual for healing called ipat or as a festive dance for wedding, enthronement, and other festive celebrations. The attire, props, music, and dance movements consist of important meanings serving overall as medium to the friendly spirit called “tonong”. Today a festive version of the dance called, Kalilang, is performed for weddings and other festive celebrations to bring good fortune.
Singkil is another Filipino dance that narrates the epic legend of “Darangan” of the Maranao people of Mindanao. This 14th century legend is about a princess Gandingan getting trapped in the forest during an earthquake that was said to have been caused by the forest nymphs or fairies. It is traditionally performed by a girl of royal blood with intention of letting her would-be-suitors know that she is ready for marriage. The Royal Princess is accompanied by a court lady holding an elaborately decorated umbrella and follows her around as she dances.
Binasuan is another folk dance originated in Bayambang, Pangasinan in the Northern Philippines. The word “binasuan” means “with the use of drinking glasses.” It is one of the most challenging Filipino dances as the dancers need to balance glasses on their heads and on their hands as they move. What makes it more difficult is that the glasses are filled with rice or wine.
The Itik-itik dance is performed by the youth imitating the movement of a duck. This example of Philippine folk dance from Surigao del Sur mimics how the itik walks and splashes water to attract a mate.
The Sakuting dance originates from the province of Abra, performed by both Ilokano Christians and non Christians. It depicts a mock fight with sticks for training and combat. During Christmas, the dance is performed in town plazas. The dancers also go door to door and get offered aguinaldos (cash gift) and refreshments.
The Philippine jota was among the most popular dances during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines and up to the early 20th century. It was originally performed in social gatherings (like weddings, parties and baptisms) during the Spanish period in the Philippines. The Filipinos adapted this lively and delightful dance with different versions. These versions are combinations of Spanish and Filipino dance steps and music. Notable differences between the Philippine and Spanish jotas are the use of unstrung bamboo castanets.
La Estudiantina is a Spanish-inspired dance of the Philippines. Young women who studied (at home with tutors for instance) used to be called estudiantina (male students were called estudiante), and this dance was originally performed by women carrying a book or a fan, items associated with female students.