An East and West Romance
Discovering Philippine dance is to delve into the country’s rich cultural heritage. It is a living documentation of the people and their various stages of cultural development. With more than 7,000 islands, the nation has been touched by numerous foreign influences. There are traces of Hindu, Arabic, Malayan, Spanish, contemporary Western, and many others that have been woven into the cultural fabric, which is inherently Filipino. With the exception of isolated hinterland groups who have remained unchanged virtually , these cross-cultural exchanges are reflected in many of the archipelago’s ethnic and regional dances.
Dances of early primitive Philippine cultures arose from communal rites: to appease the gods, to seek deliverance from pestilence, or out of special needs as to mark a wedding, a birth, a death, preparation for battle, or to celebrate victory.
Having flowered into a culture touched by Hindu, Javanese, Chinese, and Arab-Persian civilizations, Muslim Filipino dances are distinctly “Oriental,” exotic, mostly ceremonial, and especially on the part of female dancers, mystic and finely stylized. The “Singkil,” a dance of intensity and absorption, for instance, has a solo female performer weave in and out of criss-crossed bamboo poles to none other than the rhythmic beating of the poles while manipulating two fans.
Three hundred years of Spanish rule in the Philippines not only brought Catholicism, but also their arts. New dances from Spain and other European countries were introduced to supplant the “pagan” ones. Among these were the Jotas, Fandanggos, Habaneras, Rigodon, and Pasodoble, which were easily absorbed by the Filipinos. Titles of Philippine folk dances revealed Spanish influence, while a variety of foreign steps and sequences, like abraste, paseo, engano, and cabeseras, became regular features.
Dance styles also became softer, more rounded, more audience conscious, and more gracious. There arose new versions of old balancing dances of Asian origin, such as the “Pandanggo Sa Ilaw,” and animal dances such as the “Itik-Itik” (duck) dance, the “Kalapati” (dove) dance and the famous “Tinikling,” which depicts the tikling bird as it hops to escape bamboo rice traps.
And because a great number of dances were mimetic in character, it is not surprising to find quite a few which portray everyday work activities such as “Katlo,” which reenacts the pounding of rice or “Tioka,” which depicts rice threshers and “Mananguete,” which shows the make of tuba (coconut wine).
There were light hearted, comic dances as well as serious ones. While other dances were dedicated to a religious occasion, such as “Bulaklakan,” a garland dance performed in May, the month of the Virgin Mary, and the “Subli,” a dance in honor of the Holy Cross.
Evolving dance styles manifested the changing character of the Filipino people, a combination of East and West.