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Members of the Filipino-American Community of Colorado perform the tinikling dance during the Boulder Asian Festival on Aug. 15 in Boulder. (Photo by Joe Nguyen/AsiaXpress.com)


Tinikling: A dance for the birds

Filipino dance origins stem from imitation of avian menace’s movements

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The tikling bird was such a menace to rice fields in the Philippines, a dance was created after it.


Honored as the Philippine national dance, tinikling – which means “bamboo dance” – requires much stamina and concentration. Dancers hurdle between bamboo poles controlled by two people who slide and hit them to a beat. The sound of the poles becomes increasingly louder and dancers must avoid getting their feet caught. The dance mimics the movement of the tikling bird, or heron. The bird, having long legs that bend backward like a flamingo, runs over tree branches and dodges bamboo traps set up by rice farmers.


“The Philippines is an agricultural country and rice is our staple food, so by all means the farmers have to protect their farms,” said Amy Ashmann, president of the Philippine-American Society of Colorado (PASCO).


The appeal of the dance resides in the swiftness of the dancers’ feet.The dancers jump in and out of the bamboo poles, sometimes holding each other’s hands and crisscrossing arms. The bamboo poles are 12-feet long and are typically held about two-feet apart. The dance consists of a four-beat rhythm laid on top of the music of the bandurria, a 14-string instrument that evolved from the 12-string Spanish bandurria. Early versions of the dance were simple and involved only one or two people.


Tinikling originated during the 1500s when the Spaniards conquered the Philippines. It was started by farmers on the Visayan Islands of Leyte. The dance has also been said to have derived from a punishment that the Spaniards practiced. Those who worked too slowly in the fields would be forced to stand between two bamboo poles that banged against their ankles. They would jump to avoid the poles, giving them the appearance of a heron.


Today, the Tinikling is performed during cultural gatherings and holidays. Filipino teenagers have also added a rhythmic twist, resulting in what is called hip-hop Tinikling.


Hip-hop tinikling is the modern style of performing the dance. The performance starts by dancing the traditional style, and then changing the music at the end to any sort of popular hip-hop music, such as “Bebot” by the Black Eyed Peas (the song is rapped in Tagalog if you’ve ever heard it). The people controlling the bamboo poles clap them in sync to the beat of the song while the performers continue jumping in between them but with some added choreography, and if they are really advanced they use their hands to maneuver in between the poles as well. In essence, it is hip-hop dancing in between two poles.

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