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History of the Philippine Folk Dance

The Philippine archipelago is composed of 7,107 islands. Because of this, a Filipino subculture has evolved in each specific region of the country. Yet, while Filipino folk dances are primarily influenced by religion and subculture in specific areas of the Philippines, there are similarities in how these dances originated and developed throughout history.

Most of the folk dances from the mountainous region in the northern part of the Philippines came from tribes' rituals, prayers and celebrations. The folk dances in the Tagalog region located between north and central Philippines (including the country's capital Manila) had significant Spanish and European influences. Dances in the central part of the country called the Visayan region were mostly inspired by animal movements. In the Mindanao region, located in southern Philippines, folk dances were mainly influenced by Muslim culture, as this was the only Philippine region never under Spanish rule.

Tribal and Ritual Dances

The cultural minorities living in mountain regions throughout the Philippines considered dancing a basic part of their lives. Their tribal and ritual dances predated the emergence of Christianity and Islam in the country. These Filipinos preserved their ancient dances, which were essentially performed for the gods, goddesses and nature. These dances were closely intertwined with ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices. In the Ifugao region in northern Philippines, the native Igorots dance to pray for good harvest, ask for blessings before going to war, appease ancestors, ward off bad luck, heal the sick, request family blessings, celebrate feasts and offer sacrifices. There are also dances used to congregate, socialize, express feelings and mark milestones in the cycle of life.

Spanish Influence
The more than 300-year Spanish occupation in the Philippines greatly influenced Philippine folk dancing. As the Spanish brought Christianity to the country, the religion reflected most of the stories and presentations of Filipino folk dances. Apart from using Spanish-style clothes slightly modified with Filipino elements, these dances also infused the Filipinos' everyday struggles during the Spanish rule. Filipino dancers also used local resources as props like the bamboo castanets and abanico (Asian fans). Some dances also utilized Spanish steps and footwork with Filipino modifications. For instance, Mindoro's pandanggo sa Ilaw, derived from the Spanish dance fandango, adapted the use of lively steps and clapping while balancing one oil lamp on the head and one on each hand throughout the dance.

National Dance
Tinikling is the Philippines' national dance. Its name originates from the word tikling, a native bird that roams around fields, crushes tree branches and avoids traps set by farmers. The dance comes from the province of Leyte in the Visayan region. It imitates the bird's unique movements, speed and grace by skillfully maneuvering between fastmoving bamboo poles. Tinikling involves two people beating, tapping and sliding the bamboo poles on the ground and against each other while one or more dancers step over and in between the poles without getting their feet caught between them. These poles are banged against the ground and each other. The sound and rhythm they make play significant parts on the tinikling's Iberianinfluenced staccato music.

Fight and Celebration Dances

Most Filipino folk dances, regardless of which region they come from, tell stories about fights and struggles or celebrations and feasts. For instance, the maglalatik dance of Binan, Laguna is a mock-war dance demonstrating a fight between the Moros (Muslim Filipinos from Mindanao) and the Christians. The sakuting dance of abra uses the arnis, a native weapon made out of two sticks that serve as extensions of the hands, to demonstrate a fight between the Christian Filipinos and the non-Christian natives of the Cordillera region. The sinulog in San Joaquin, Iloilo is a ceremonial dance performed for the feast of San Martin (Saint Martin). The bulaklakan of the Tagalogs, meanwhile, is an annual procession followed by a social gathering where girls dance while holding a U-shaped garland held upside down. Each dancer uses one of these arch-like props filled with leaves and flowers.