Tinikling: Toying With The Traditional

By Athena Abadilla, FINDink Contributor

But first, what’s this “tinikling” you speak of? To quickly explain, tinikling is a traditional Filipino dance that originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. It involves the rhythmic clapping of bamboo sticks on the ground and against each other while dancers step over and between these sticks on timing with the beat.  

It’s become a trend in the Filipino communities that I’ve met to take this traditional tinikling and perform it with a twist: contemporary hip-hop/pop music and modern clothing.  What are the ramifications of fusing American pop culture into this traditional dance from the Philippines? Can this new-age style of tinikling still even be called tinikling if it doesn’t honor its roots?


Last semester, our Filipino club at Columbia University got an invite from a professor to perform tinikling at her son’s birthday party.  It was an around-the-world themed celebration, and we were there to represent the Philippines.  While deciding what our performance would look like for the party, the birthday boy’s parents informed us that their son had been really into the, at that time, newest Ed Sheeran chart-topper “Shape of You” and if we could incorporate that into our performance set that’d make him so happy.  Needless to say, we did.  It also wasn’t the only time we’ve choreographed tinikling to non-traditional Filipino folk music though.  We’ve clapped our bamboo sticks and danced to famous artists such as Bruno Mars and the Chainsmokers.  One of our performances even included moves to that once popular “Juju on that Beat” dance craze.

At various events and parties, to get young people more hyped about this special part of our Filipino culture, clubs and dance troupes often modernize the traditional tinikling like we did.  A popular group back home in Hawaii, called the Tekniqlingz, are famous for doing so.  Their mission is this: “to strengthen ethnic identity and cultural awareness through education and the perpetuation of the Filipino culture in art, music, and dance.”  Some people, however, may argue that altering the sound and sight of a traditional tinikling performance is an erasure of its significance.  I see the validity of this point but do believe that a well-executed modern tinikling performance could lead to a stronger embrace of our Filipino culture; this’d be okay only if done appropriately and with good intentions like Tekniqligz has (for example, groups could consider starting the set with the traditional folk music and telling the backstory before switching up the beat).

But do we all really know the history of tinikling enough to share it through our performances?  “Tinikling” directly translates into “tikling-like” referring to the certain species of “tikling” birds.  Back in the rice fields of the Philippines, farmers used to set bamboo traps to catch these birds who were always a nuisance to the growth of the crops.  However, the birds were swift, running over and avoiding the snaps of the traps.  The quick clapping of the bamboo sticks and equally quick but graceful movements of the dancers are actually meant to imitate these birds in the traps and be reminiscent of the beautiful simplicity of farm life in the Philippines.

Let’s not forget this story that has been passed down generation to generation with this traditional dance.  It’s crucial, and especially important during this month celebrating Filipino American Heritage & History, to make sure that the tradition behind the tinikling dance and other cultural practices that we choose to bring into the 21st century does not get lost in translation.  


BamBOO! Happy October & Filipino American Heritage Month! Remember, the views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.