Tinikling Ideas

Description of Activity

Tinikling is the most popular and best known dance of the Philippines, receiving acclaim as their national dance. The dance is similar to rope jumping, but instead of a spinning rope, two bamboo poles are hit against raised blocks on the floor and then together. Tinikling actually means "bamboo dance" in English. The dance requires one person to operate each end of the poles, and one or more dancers to move in and out of the poles.

Photo taken by Divine Marcelo 2001 Likha Pilippino Folk Ensemble. Check out their website at www.likha.org/galleries/tinikling.asp.


Tinikling originated in the Visayan Islands, on the Island of Leyte. Dancers imitate the tikling bird's legendary grace and speed as they walk between grass stems, run over tree branches, or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers.

Different stories of tinikling have been passed down through oral histories and folklore. One of the stories of it's origin may or may not be true. The story says that the dance started by the people who worked on the fields and paddies in the Philippines. When the Spaniards conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to the haciendas. The natives lost control of their land because they were under 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 people of the Philippines worked in the fields and paddies for almost four hundred years (1500-1898). The people who worked too slowly would be punished. Their punishment was to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove. Sometimes, the sticks would have thorns jutting out from their segments. The poles were then clapped together to beat the native's feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment.

The matrix for the dance was probably laid out when the workers would return home with their feet bruised and bleeding from the punishment. By practicing to escape the bamboo sticks during punishment, tinikling soon became a challenge, an art, and a dance. Now tinikling is performed on certain Sundays in the Philippines. Since it is no longer a punishment, the sticks are smooth and the clapping is gentle.

Photo taken by Divine Marcelo 2001 Likha Pilippino Folk Ensemble. Check out their website at www.likha.org/galleries/tinikling.asp.


Tinikling equipment may be bought commercially, but is more economical to supply yourself. The following items work well and are inexpensive:

1. Wooden closet dowels from the local lumber yard (8-18 feet long, depending on number of dancers).

2. Pieces of free 2x4 scrap or inexpensively bought 2x4's may be cut as blocks (approximately 30 inches long).

3. Free carpeting samples may be cut up and glued to the bottom of block ends to protect wood floors and to decrease vibrating of blocks when they are hit.

4. Tape marks may be placed on blocks to approximate the width to separate the poles to hit them on the blocks (14-18 inches apart, depending on size of dancers).

Lead-up Activities

Several preliminary activities help students to master actual tinikling steps. As with learning any activity, it is helpful to break tinikling down into its component parts. Pole clapping and dancing steps may be introduced using the following sequence:

1. Clap to self - Have movers simulate the 4/4 tinikling beat by slapping hands against their thighs for two beats, and then clapping hands together for two beats. The cadence is "down, down, together, together" or "slap, slap, clap, clap."

2. Clap with foursome - With all facing the middle of the foursome, have students slap hands against their thighs for two beats, and then clap hands against their neighbor's hands on either side for two beats.

3. Clap poles with partner without dancers.

SAFETY NOTE: The last 6 inches of each pole should be wrapped with tape to prevent slivers when operating poles. Pole operators need to keep their faces back in case a dancer steps on a pole, springing it into the air. The best positions to ensure this are (a) sitting on floor with legs apart, or (b) crouching down on one knee.

4. Practice basic steps with poles still on floor.

5. When music is introduced, instrumental music has a more defined beat than does music with lyrics.

Types of steps

Tinikling dance steps are usually described as combinations of only three basic 4/4 steps: Singles, doubles, and hops. Singles and doubles refer to the number of feet that touch the floor at a time during a given step. Hops refers to a specific category of singles steps, although sometimes a step involving just one foot at a time actually contains a leap, since the body weight is transfered from one foot to the other foot. The selected steps that follow are described and demonstrated via video according to the specific nature of the steps, rather than simply the number of feet involved:

Descriptions and video clips of doubles steps
Descriptions and video clips of combination steps
Descriptions and video clips of singles steps

In addition to video clips of steps, the following links provide printer friendly descriptions of groups of steps, along with a tinikling card on which students may chart their progress. The card may be downloaded and copied on cardstock for use in class. After mastering basic steps, students may sequence steps together into a routine. Each "poster card" contains one of the 13 steps enlarged for posting on the wall. Cards may be copied on cardstock and laminated for long term use. "Pole arrangements" describes alternative ways to position poles, particularly for creating small or large group patterns.

Tinikling songs
Pole arrangements

Additional Challenge

Band jumping is a rhythmic activity that resembles tinikling. The difference is that the "jump bands" are elastic bands that have a loop at each end. Consequently, they are operated by foot, instead of by hand. Those operating the bands put a loop on each foot and create parallel bands which open and close to the beat. Dancers move in and out of the bands using a variety of steps or movements as with the poles. Either jump bands or tinikling poles may be used with 3/4 music, as was originally done, however the 4/4 meter is easier for dancers to follow, and 4/4 music is much more plentiful.

© Steven A. Henkel, 4/06

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