Brief history of the Philippine folk dance

Updated July 19, 2017

Philippine folk dances are as varied as the people who inhabit the region. The dances of the Philippines developed in the fields and towns as a means for people to express themselves in celebrations or to comment on what was happening around them. These dances have been around as long as the culture has existed.

Spiritual significance

Most of the Philippine folk dances began as spiritual endeavours to communicate with the gods. Dance could function as a way for people to thank their gods or to plead to them. Typically, dances were connected to events like harvest, weddings, births or funerals.


Several dances exist in the various regions of the Philippines. A few include:

The Idulu is a dance that portrays the necessity of cooperation in families. One male dancer acts as if he is working in the field and then comes in while a female dancer acts as if she is caring for the children at home She leaves when the father comes in.

The Tinikling is a dance that imitates birds doing high steps and strutting, all while trying to avoid bamboo traps that are set for them.

The Maglalatik is a war dance representing battles from Philippine history.

The Pandanggo sa Ilaw is an exciting dance to watch because the dancers balance glasses of wine on themselves, hopefully never spilling a drop. This dance displays grace and balance.


While many groups have no musicians playing for them, some use percussion. Popular percussive instruments include gongs like the tobtob, the gangsa and the hibat. Bamboo castanets (percussive instruments attached to the fingers) are popular in some of the Spanish-influenced areas and dances. However, much of the music or rhythm produced for the dances is simply made by the hands and feet of the dancers.


During the Maglalatik, dancers wear coconut shells fastened to their bodies. These shells serve as something to strike, depicting the violence of war. A dance called the Maria Clara requires that the dancers wear a specific costume or dress, combined with a long-sleeved barong Tagalog. Some dances include the use of fans, as seen in Spanish dancing.


A significant influence on the Philippines and its dances was the arrival of the Spaniards during the sixteenth century. They occupied the land for over 300 years, and several dances like the Maria Clara and the Pandanggo come from that era. Philippine folk dance also was influenced by the Muslims and Indonesians.

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About the Author

J. Lynn Patten has her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Michigan University and is working on her master's in drama from Texas Woman's University. She has worked with the young for more than eight years, in educational, social and artistic venues.