The History of Tinikling Folk Dance

Updated July 19, 2017

Tinikling is a Philippine folk dance, and the Philippine Travel Guide indicates locals recognise it as the country’s national dance. The dance derives its name from a local bird called tikling (Barred Rail) because the dance steps mimic the movement of birds walking through grass fields. The steps also imitate the birds as they avoid bamboo traps set up by farmers.


Tinikling originated in the province of Leyte, located in the Visayan Islands of the Philippines. Apart from the belief that the dance came from imitating movements of the tikling birds, the Philippine Travel Guide indicates another story of the dance is that it originated from a common punishment Spaniards gave farmers, whom they colonised several hundred years ago. The Spaniards punished farmers who worked too slowly by beating their feet with two thorny bamboo poles.


The dance requires two long bamboo poles, each about 9 feet long, and two blocks of wood about 2 inches thick and 30 inches long. Two people create the percussion of the dance by sliding and hitting the bamboo poles against each other and against the blocks of wood. In addition, the dance also uses staccato music.


Tinikling performers move somewhat similar to skipping rope players, but instead of a rope, they use bamboo poles. Two performers each sit on the floor and hold the poles on opposite ends. Two other performers, usually a man and a woman, face each other and position themselves alongside the poles. They hop gracefully between and over the poles while the other performers hit the poles against each other and the blocks of wood. Dancers pay close attention to rhythm and timing.


Dancers dress in traditional Philippine outfits. Women wear the balintawak, a dress with wide-arched sleeves and a panuelo or handkerchief on the shoulder. Some women wear the patadyong, a checkered skirt paired with a blouse made out of pineapple fibre. Meanwhile, men wear a common formal attire called the barong Tagalog. It is a lightweight long-sleeved shirt worn over an undershirt and paired with red trousers. Dancers remain barefoot for the dance.

Tinikling Today

Performers use a basic step pattern to cross over the poles, but they can also modify the steps to showcase a more complicated routine. While Filipinos included earlier tinikling performances as part of Philippine festivities, people perform it today in order to promote Philippine cultural heritage and tourism. Hotel lounges feature tinikling performances to welcome and entertain guests. Elementary and secondary schools also include tinikling in physical education classes to promote physical fitness.

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About the Author

Monica Abrenica is based in New Jersey, and has been writing news and feature stories since 2001. Her work has been published in "Magnificat," "Chi-Rho" and the "Philippine Collegian." She graduated magna cum laude at Rutgers University in 2011, completing a bachelor's degree in journalism and media studies with a minor in psychology.