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Nov 06, 2008

In the United States, Tinikling is taught as part of physical education classes in elementary, middle and high school grade levels. It’s considered a form of aerobic exercise that also improves spatial awareness, rhythm, foot and leg speed, agility, and coordination. Check out this new style called “Hip Hop Tinikling”!

Tinikling is the most popular and best known of the Philippine dances and honored as the Philippine national dance. Considered as one of the oldest dances from the Philippines, this form of dancing was originated in the islands of Leyte in the Visayan Islands. The dance imitates the movement of the tikling birds as they walk between grass stems, run over tree branches, or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. Dancers imitate the tikling bird’s legendary grace and speed by skillfully maneuvering between large bamboo poles. Tinikling means “bamboo dance” in English.

The dance involves two people hitting bamboo poles, using them to beat, tap, and slide on the ground and against each other in coordination with one or more dancers who step over and in between the poles in a dance. The bamboo is also used as a percussive instrument as it is banged against the ground (or a piece of wood to make it easier to hold) and each other in a pattern. When the bamboo closes it has to be hard enough to make a sound and the dancers must be quick enough to not get their foot (or feet) caught. As the dance continues the banging of the bamboo becomes faster and harder, the sound of clashing bamboo thrills the crowd and the quickness of feet demonstrated by the dancers awes them. It requires great skill, else one’s ankles will be caught between those bamboo poles! (ouch!) Before this dance became what it is today, it went through an evolution of sorts. Different stories of the Tinikling’s origin have been passed down through oral histories and folklore.

One of the stories of the Tinikling’s origin may be made up, a fact, or part of a legend. The story says that the Tinikling started by the people who worked on the fields and paddies in the Philippines. When the Spaniards came from Spain and conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to the haciendas. The natives lost control of their land because they were under the enconmienda system, an economic system that is largely based on rural and agricultural operations of large farmlands administered by caretakers for the King of Spain. The natives had to work all day to please the Spaniards. The natives could have completely lost control of their destiny under an exploitative system. The people of the Philippines worked in the fields and paddies for nearly four hundred years (1500-1898).

The people who worked too slowly would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. Their punishment was to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove. Sometimes, the sticks would have thorns sticking from their segments. The poles were then clapped to beat the native’s feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment. This type of punishment became a cycle - the more bruised the person’s feet were, the less work he would do, the more punishment. By practicing to escape the bamboo sticks during punishment, the Tinikling soon became a challenge, an art, and a dance.

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