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The Pangalay Dance in the Construction of Filipino Heritage

Joelle Florence Patrice Jacinto

The Philippines is distinct from other Asian nations. It is the only country that is predominantly Catholic and in which English is one of the two official languages. In addition, Filipinos have been culturally informed, first, by a colonial mentality and, later, by the desire to establish a revised "cultural heritage" that allows them to emerge as a modern nation-state with a unique, independent Filipino identity. In this nationalizing context, dances of the region have become heritage tools, that is, they function as instruments that support the ideological construction of a Philippine culture as "rich and diverse."

     The Pangalay dance is one such tool. A dance form traditionally performed by the Tausug people of the southern Philippines, this dance is distinct because it is characterized by hand movements that resemble the movement of ocean waves, enhanced by long, metal fingernails worn by the dancers. Filipino choreographer Ligaya Amilbangsa, who has done extensive research on this dance form, sees the Pangalay as distinctly "Asian," describing it as resembling Indian, Javanese, Thai (Siamese), Burmese, and Cambodian styles (Amilbangsa 1999).1 In contrast, Filipinos who recognize the Pangalay claim it as a "Philippine folk dance." How then, we might ask, does a distinctly "Asian" dance permit an identification as "Filipino"?

     This paper describes how the Pangalay is, in fact, historically related to both southern Philippine dancing and some Asian dances. However, its contemporary positioning is contested, the details of which sheds light on the process of using dances to cultivate a "cultural heritage." Some Filipinos separate the Pangalay from the rest of Philippine dancing, while others claim it as such but make its origins exotic. This situation reveals the remnants of colonial thinking, as well as the effects of folk dance classifications used in organizing the repertoire of folk dance companies. This paper does not offer new research on the Pangalay dance itself but interrogates its current positioning as a Philippine and/or an Asian dance.

Philippine Folk Dance

Philippine dances owe their rich diversity to the country's archipelagic landscape. There are 7,107 islands containing eighty provinces, with a documented ninety-two million people spread out over seven major and several minor ethnicities, each speaking their own dialects as well as the national language, Filipino, and with various competencies in English. The English language was taught to native Filipinos by their American colonizers, who stayed for forty-eight years, from 1898 to 1946. This is less than one-seventh of the earlier period, from 1565 to 1898, when it was a Spanish colony.2

     "Philippine folk dance" is the term scholars use to categorize traditional and social dances learned and adapted by Filipinos from their Spanish colonizers. This distinction separates them from the category "Philippine ethnic dance," which are dances originating from indigenous Filipinos (Abraham 1991). General categorizations usually lump the two together, however, differentiating both these genres from dances that are choreographed and staged in the theater—in effect, ballets and contemporary dance works. There is, then, a dual classification that separates dancing as a traditional/indigenous cultural practice and Spanish-influenced folk dances from the dance as a performing art in the globalized "high"-art sense. It is interesting to note that, despite this distinction, most "folk" and "ethnic" dance forms are also staged and, in many cases, choreographed.3

     Beginning in 1931, dance educator Francisca Reyes-Aquino4 collected and created an inventory of notated folk dances that was eventually published in 1946 and 1953 as a series of volumes called Philippine National Dances. She was awarded the National Artist Award in 1973 for this effort. This was considered an official documentation of the dances in the Philippines and became the primary reference source and foundation for the repertoire of most folk dance troupes/companies in the Philippines. The need to categorize the many varied dances soon surfaced in these repertoires. For example, a standard performance by the Bayanihan National Folk Dance Company follows the following format (as reflected in their instructional video series):

Cordillera Suite, featuring dances from the people of the Cordillera mountain range, or, in Bayanihan's own description, "dances from the mountainous regions of northern Philippines" (2002). This includes choreographed versions of the original dances, such as the Sayaw sa Banga, Idaw, Salidsid, among others.

Muslim Suite, which includes dances from the Muslim groups in Mindanao, with the Pangalay and the Singkil as the most easily recognizable among Filipino audiences.

Tribal Suite, with dances from communities categorized ethnolinguistically as neither Igorot nor Muslim, such as the Dugso from the peoples in Bukidnon and dance forms of the Bagobo and the T'boli of South Cotabato.

Maria Clara Suite, or Hispanic-influenced folk dances such as the Jota Moncadeña, Habanera Botoleña, and Pandanggo sa Ilaw, among others.

Rural Suite, or dances of the Christianized Filipinos with a more "folksy" character, which include the Sayaw sa Bangko and Tinikling dance, among others.

This 2002 Bayanihan description of the "Muslim Suite" cites "dances from the rich islands of southern Philippines-Mindanao," which implies that there are no other dances in Mindanao aside from those of the Muslim groups. This is erroneous, however, since the Bukidnon dugso and Bagobo dances featured in the Tribal Suite are from groups also situated in Mindanao.5 Published fairly recently in 2002, this description may be seen as a careful attempt to recover the branding of dances by Muslim groups as "Muslim dance," which I will discuss further in the next section.

     This type of classification continues in Reynaldo Alejandro's 1978 book Philippine Dance: Mainstream and Cross-Currents and its update in 2002 as Sayaw: Philippine Dance. Alejandro begins his categorization with "Hispanic-Influenced Dances of the Lowland Christians," which are the folk dances transmitted from and influenced by the Spanish colonizers. The next chapter divides dances according to "Ethnolinguistic Groups" as follows:

The Dances of the Northern Highlands (which refers to the dances performed by the groups collectively known by the general Filipino population as Igorot [literally "from the mountain"])

Dances of the Muslim South

Dances of Traditionalist Communities (which are all the remaining non-Christian communities that could not be classified as Igorot or Muslim).

The Pangalay dance enters this classification in chapter 2, "Dances of the Muslim South," as a dance performed regularly at weddings.6 The photographs included are noteworthy in that they are of Amilbangsa, considered the expert on the Pangalay after her extensive research with the Tausug community, following her first "discovery" of it in 1969. Amilbangsa herself has since written a book titled Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Artistic Expressions (1983). In it, Amilbangsa broadens the reach of the Pangalay dance by stating that the same dance is called by other names among other Muslim groups: namely, the Paunjalay among the Yakan, and the Igal among the Badjao/Sama groups, although more recent research shows that the Igal is actually a different dance albeit with some similar qualities (Santamaria 2005 and 2010) (see Figures 1 and 2). Amilbangsa (1983) also claims that, historically, the Pangalay dance actually preceded the Tausug people's conversion to Islam, but, because they are widely known as a Muslim group, the Pangalay is often characterized by dance practitioners and scholars alike as a "Muslim dance."

Figure 1
Figure 1. Pangalay as performed by the Jambasamatau group of Tawi Tawi. Photo by MCM Santamaria.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Igal as performed by the Jambasamatau group of Tawi Tawi. Photo by MCM Santamaria.

Muslim Dance

The category "Muslim dance" is commonly used in Philippine folk dance circles, but only recently is it being addressed as problematic. It provides a convenient but misleading umbrella term for most of the dances found in the south of the Philippines, practiced by communities whose religion is predominantly Muslim. However, ironically, there can be no such thing as "Muslim dance" because, aside from Sufism, dancing is not traditionally permitted in the religion of Islam. This, then, raises the questions why the term "Muslim dance" is used at all and what are the implications and problems surrounding its use.

     In the Philippines, despite the dictates of the religion, Muslim peoples do dance. Abraham Sakili (1991) agrees with Amilbangsa (1983) that the dances practiced by Filipino Muslims today existed in these communities before the conversion to Islam. However, he does not explain why, after conversion, the dances were retained. William Peterson (2003) also observes, using evidence from Amilbangsa's description of the social and cultural functions of the Pangalay, that the dance probably predates Islam since these functions would be found objectionable by the monotheistic Muslim fundamentalists. They include belief in animist spirits apart from Allah and public acknowledgment of male and female relationships, to which fundamentalist Muslims do not subscribe, according to Peterson.

     Perhaps there is a connection here to processes related to dancing observed in colonial conversions to Catholicism in the Americas. In writing about Christianity, Jamake Highwater (1978) speculates that the Catholic Church allowed dancing to take place in churches to make conversion from pagan worship to Catholicism easier; the pagan gods were replaced by Christ and the saints, and the church attendees danced to praise them. He suggests that, as reading and writing was taught to the "savages," the Mass became more prayer-centered, and dancing was then forbidden in the solemn environment. Basilio Esteban Villaruz describes a similar occurrence in the Philippine setting, where "people transferred the object of their worship to saints, though they did not completely abandon their native impulse and style" (1991: 239). Villaruz gives examples of this, such as the fertility dance of old female parishioners that existed before the church at Obando, Bulacan; the subli in honor of the Holy Cross in Batangas, and the pastores de belen dance enacting the shepherds visit to the newborn Christ, which came from Mexico. If we extend this hypothesis to Islam, perhaps the conversion to Islam followed similar lines, allowing the people to keep certain traditions in the interest of maintaining good will.

     In Reyes-Tolentino's Philippine National Dances (1946), the author categorizes "Muslim Dances" under "Non-Christian Dances." Santamaria (2005) considers this as an "oversimplified, sweeping generalization-type" of definition, dismissive of the religious and cultural diversity of the peoples in the Philippines. Nevertheless, this oversimplified classification as "Non-Christian" evolves into "Muslim dance" and has been widely used since then by dancers and scholars of the dance, as in the aforementioned volume by Alejandro (1978).

     In Manila and other cities in the Philippines, use of the term "Muslim dance" can be characterized as a postcolonial "orientalizing" practice on the part of city dwellers, one that further emphasizes the ignorance of those in the city center toward the periphery that is the rest of regional Philippines. It even suggests alienation, with the majority of Christian city dwellers "othering" the non-Christians from the south (see Figure 3). The complexity of forging a national identity in such circumstances is documented by Maria Luisa Doronila (1992), who points out that many lowland Filipinos in Luzon and the Visayas do not feel that minority groups, such as those in the Cordillera region and the Muslim groups in Mindanao, are, in fact, also Filipino. Several groups of Filipino Muslims, in turn, do not consider themselves Filipino either and are dreaming of autonomy; some are actively engaged in the fight to claim it.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Map of the Philippines, highlighting the distance of the Sulu archipelago from Manila, the city center.

     These "Muslim dances," recognized and identified as such by Filipino audiences, include the Singkil, the Pangalay, Asik or Mag-Asik, the Kandingan, and the Kapamalongmalong, among several others. Although these dances come from different ethnic groups and locations in the Muslim-dominated areas in Mindanao, there are many similarities in their performance, including the bodily stance and the way the head and the arms are carried. Common to all the dances from these Muslim groups is a stoic, almost haughty demeanor that is used during performance. Throughout the dancing, the performers are not allowed to show emotion, their faces are expressionless, and their eyes are downcast.

     Of the dances just mentioned, the Singkil is probably the most recognizable throughout the country. This dance is based on one of the stories in a beloved Maranao epic, the Darangen, where a princess expertly steps over a crisscross of crashing bamboo poles followed by the hero, Bantugen. Also following close behind is a chaperone or servant of the princess who is holding an umbrella over the princess's head. These characters are surrounded by four or six supporting female dancers. Said to have been taught to then-Bayanihan artistic director Lucresia Urtula by a Princess Tarhata of the Maranao, the Singkil form we see today originated with the Bayanihan folk dance group, as choreographed by Urtula, and has become the company's signature piece (Santos 2004). The theatricality of the Singkil performance, the constancy of its staging, and some active debates over its authenticity as a "royal" dance form are reasons that it is more popular than the Pangalay.

     In an earlier paper on heritage making (Jacinto 2009), I discuss debates regarding the authenticity of the Singkil. The Singkil dance that is in the repertoire of the Bayanihan folk dance group is now referred to as a "re-creation," implying that the work is choreographed based on what was shown to its choreographer (Santos 2004) and may well be deserving of the criticism that it is a false representation of the Maranao people, given the findings I describe in that paper (Jacinto 2009). I, nevertheless, champion the Singkil as an important part of the contemporary Philippine folk dance repertoire, acknowledging that Filipinos accept such "heritage making" as a cultural practice. This is similar to Eric Hobsbawm's concept of "invented tradition," wherein a tradition may be imposed and seem to date back further than it has existed in actual practice but becomes accepted through repetition, thereby establishing routines and conventions (1983:1-5).

     Many Filipinos already know the Singkil as a "Philippine dance," rather than a "Muslim dance" per se, thereby accepting the dance as part of a national Philippine "culture." Folk dance groups who are not from Mindanao each perform their own version of the Singkil, as do the Maranao people themselves, who, it is rumored, may (or may not) have "made up" the dance to present to Urtula, the Bayanihan folk group's artistic director (Jacinto 2009, Santos 2004). On the other hand, the movements of the Pangalay, with its flowing arms, bent stances, and use of the extended metal fingernails called janggay, are actually what most Filipinos would recognize visually and refer to as a "Muslim Dance." The term "Pangalay" is not as familiar, but most people do not identify differences between it and the Singkil dance.

     For the purposes of nationalist "heritage making," there are many characteristics of the Pangalay that qualify it to be an effective tool in establishing the ideology of "a rich national cultural heritage." As a dance form of the Tausug, and supposedly of the Jama Mapun, Badjao and Samal communities, it immediately represents the southern Philippines geographically and, for some scholars, religiously as well. There is no set origin story to the Pangalay, however; rather, the dance thematically portrays nature—the flow of waves and the wind through the trees. This leads to erroneous claims that the dance is "universal" so that non-Tausugs and non-Muslim Filipinos will understand it (Amilbangsa 1983, 1994). More importantly, as mentioned earlier, Amilbangsa (1983), among others, has claimed that the Pangalay precedes the conversion to Islam. If this is correct, it fulfills the goal of heritage making as an authentic indigenous Philippine dance form, thereby strengthening the nationalist claim to being part of a rich and diverse culture.

     Alejandro uses the terms "Muslim dance" and "Moslem Dance Styles" consistently in his published work, starting with his 1972 essay and continuing in his 1978 'coffee-table' book that classifies the "traditional and contemporary" dances of the Philippines.7 As mentioned above, in his 2002 volume, he labels a section of the third chapter, on "Ethno-linguistic Groups," as "Dances of the Muslim South," which title implies that he will discuss the dances in that area of southern Philippines dominated by Muslim peoples. He continues to use the term "Muslim dances," despite describing them as having "Hindu-Malayan-Arabic influences" and also as "unmistakably Filipino" (Alejandro 2002: 89).

     The first annual volumes of the Philippine Folk Dance Society (organized by Reyes-Aquino), which published dances learned at the Philippine Folk Dance Workshop, also use the term "Muslim dance." This series classified dances according to a proposed regional "dance culture." For example, volume 1 (1999) classifies "Lowland" or "Coastal" dances by geographical region along with religious affiliations such as "Traditionalist," "Christian," or "Muslim" (Obusan and Basilio 1999-2005). By volume 4 (2002), the terms "Muslim" and "Christian" as identifiers of dance genres were removed from use. The dances are instead attributed to ethnic groups, so that Igal Janggay is attributed to the Bajau, whose dance culture was identified as "Coastal Community." Likewise, the Pig-Apir dance is featured in the same volume and attributed to the Maranao (a Muslim group), whose dance culture is now classified as belonging to "Lakeshore dwellers." In succeeding volumes, these dances are no longer described as Muslim dances, although inexplicably, the authors still classify some as Christian. For example, in volume 5 (2003), the Cariñosa is described as belonging to a Bicolano dance culture that is "Lowland Christian." To his credit, Ramon Obusan and his coauthor did invest in discovering and publishing information about new dances instead of relying on the readily available established canon. However flawed, they began to reclassify the dances in an attempt to give each cultural community its own identity through its dances. However, since Obusan's death in 2005, it remains unclear if others will continue this research.

Western Influence and Philippine "Orientalism"

With Muslims concentrated mainly in the southern part of the country, it has been easy for the rest of the Philippines to exclude these groups from concepts of the nation (see Doronila 1992). The bid for modernization and globalization in order to reestablish its strength as a nation-state and recover from colonial impacts has intensified the Philippine tendency to embrace postcolonial Western aspirations and elevated the aforementioned orientalism toward its own citizens that many contemporary Filipinos practice automatically, even unknowingly.

     This problem has been addressed by several government as well as nongovernment organization (NGO) campaigns over the years. It began as early as Carlos P. Garcia's Filipino First policy in 1946, which was tentatively supported in the years that followed, but only seriously pursued during Ferdinand Marcos's aim for Bagong Lipunan (New Society) under martial law in 1972. Such campaigns strive to emphasize the diversity of the Philippines with its multiplicity of cultures, but they promote a nationalist ideology only superficially consumed by Filipinos themselves.

     This is reflected in Filipinos' understanding of Philippine dances, which is still based on the repertoire of the aforementioned Bayanihan group, and what they read in their elementary school books. For example, in Dances of the Emerald Isles (1980), Leonor Orosa Goquingco describes the "Dances of the Muslim groups" in exoticizing terms as having an "Oriental style" as evidenced by the "inner intensity and absorption, mysticism, languid, flowing movements of the arms as they change from pose to pose, etc. far removed from the Western dance idiom" (1980:39). She goes on to describe Philippine Muslim culture as "a culture touched by Hindu, Javanese, Chinese and Arab-Persian civilizations, they are Oriental, exotic and even, on the part of the female dancer especially, mystic and finely stylized" (ibid.). In 1980, at the time this was written, the "Western idiom" of dance referred to ballet and American modern dance, already very popular in the Philippines. The contrast accounts for Goquingco's exoticizing view of the "Muslim" tradition. Goquingco herself was trained in ballet and modern dance and spent her professional career choreographing and performing versions of Philippine folk dances within the idioms of ballet and modern dance in her Filipinescas Dance Troupe. The breadth of her life's work earned her the National Artist Award for Dance in 1976.

     The practice of adapting and assimilating folk dance movements into ballet and modern dance works had become widespread among ballet and modern dance practitioners by the 1970s, establishing what is now known as "Philippine Ballet," an appropriation of the Western dance form introduced during the American occupation. It began in 1922 when the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova performed in the Philippines and sparked interest in, and demand in the country for, classical ballet training. In addition, local vaudeville presentations, known as bodabil, served as precursors to today's variety shows on television and educated Filipino audiences in popular dance styles from America (Villaruz 1989/1991). Today there are several ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance companies in the country. The ballet companies have regular production seasons at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in the capital Manila, while also appearing in other performance venues.

     The colonial takeover of Filipino cultural and linguistic norms and practices also introduced consumerism, as Filipinos started to purchase foreign products, trusting that they were superior to local ones. This situation prompted a response in the national "Proudly Philippine Made" and "Buy Filipino" campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s. In the realm of the dance, the campaign to bring Filipinos back to an awareness of their own cultural forms prompted some dance scholars to dismiss ballet and modern dance forms as non-Filipino. For example, Pedro Abraham, in his essay "Sayaw Filipino" (1991), calls the use of Philippine themes in ballets mere "attempts," and he is of the opinion that creating a "Filipino ballet" may be impossible. Bienvenido Lumbera, a noted literary scholar and National Artist in Literature, commented that he had a difficult time writing the libretto of Ballet Philippines' 1977 production Tales of the Manuvu. He saw it as incongruent with his aspiration of serving his nation and felt he was merely entertaining the bourgeoisie (Lumbera 2000). And yet a tradition of Filipino ballets persists, intriguing American scholar Sally Ann Ness, whose essay "Originality in the Postcolony" (1997) describes Agnes Locsin's Igorot—which features indigenous northern highland movements performed en pointe—as a successful Filipinization of ballet.

     I find this rejection of the possibility of a genuinely Philippine ballet, jazz, and modern dance and disdain toward attempts to appropriate Western dance forms contradictory, since Philippine film, music, theater, architecture, and visual arts are not judged by the same standards. Additionally, although the modernized Filipino is starting to overcome a colonial mindset in most aspects of life, in my experience Philippine dances and dancing are enjoyed only on a superficial level and only in accordance with the heritage campaigns to which audiences might have been exposed. I suggest that this is largely due to the problematic nature of existing research on Philippine dances and the unwillingness of researchers to write about Philippine dancing, or in some cases, rewrite as needed.

     Current expertise in Philippine folk dance lies mainly with folk dance teachers and troupe directors who are primarily interested in building a repertoire for their own performing group. Few scholars conduct research, and the documentation of their findings into books and monographs is almost nonexistent. The result is that the books that categorize dances in ways similar to Alejandro continue to be the main sources of reference for learning about Philippine dances.

The Pangalay as a Philippine Dance

Amilbangsa (1999) described the Pangalay as a dance resembling Indian, Javanese, Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian dances and as the "most Asian" of the folk dances. The hands are flexed at the wrists and fingers hyperflexed backward, a feature of Javanese and Cambodian dances. The body is bent slightly at the hips and the knees and, viewed laterally, resembles the shape of the letter S. This stance can be seen in other Asian dance forms, but most especially in the Malaysian form of Pangalay and Igal, which the Philippines share through the kinship of the Tausug and Bajau peoples, who live both in the Sulu archipelago and in Sabah.

     Amilbangsa (1999) considers the Pangalay the closest the Philippines has to a classical dance form. This is difficult to comprehend, however, if one compares it with classical forms such as Cambodian dance, where temple dancers are trained from childhood and spend all their lives training to perform at ceremonies. In contrast, ritual dancing in particular indigenous communities in the Philippines does not require extensive formal training and is usually improvised; in effect, the dancers move as they wish within the confines of the genre and are not bound to follow any specific choreography. For example, the ceremonial dances of the Cordillera tribes and the ritualistic healing trance dances performed by the high priest or priestess of a community (known as babaylan, katalonan, or mumbaki) are not formally structured. Unlike the aforementioned Asian classical dance forms, where a few young people in each community are selected to learn an elaborate dance repertoire for specific occasions, indigenous Filipinos did not specialize in refining a formal dance tradition but opted to dance more freely, their bodies "flowing according to the beat of the music and the pulse of the village" (cited in Reyes-Urtula, Arandez, and Tiongson 1994:36). The early accounts of Antonio Pigafetta and Fr. Francisco Colin mention in romanticizing and primitivist fashion that "all the natives danced, as common and natural as breathing" (ibid.).

     In contrast to both of the above—the formal Asian classical forms and the unstructured ceremonial and healing dances of the Cordillera tribes—the Pangalay dance has a specific set of postures, gestures, and movements. Practicing dancers develop their own choreography, not necessarily set to a rigid framework but not unstructured and free-moving either. This difference could be what Amilbangsa refers to when she refers to the Pangalay as "closest" to a classical dance form.

     Amilbangsa is not originally from Jolo; she became interested in the Pangalay dance as a researcher. She eventually married into the family of the sultan of Sulu and was declared a "princess," but, for several years and as of this writing, she has been living in Antipolo City, in Luzon, the northern island of the Philippines, where she opens her house each Sunday for free Pangalay lessons to walk-in students. A performing group composed of her regular students was formed, officially called the Alun Alun Dance Circle. The group performs short programs of traditional and choreographed dances on minor—sometimes makeshift—stages for small audiences, with the goal of educating non-Muslim Filipinos about the Pangalay dance.

     In 1974, before settling in Luzon, Amilbangsa formed the Tambuli Cultural Troupe in Tawi Tawi, and in 1978 with Steven Patrick Fernandez, she established the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG), which produces dance dramas in Iligan, Mindanao,using Pangalay as the basic movement vocabulary of their performances (Villaruz 1994). IPAG is still operational today, having toured European cities as well as performing regularly in its native Iligan.

     Although Filipinos who are more informed about southern Philippine culture may display more awareness of the Pangalay as a Filipino dance form, such knowledge is often treated as trivial. For example, a colleague who has danced ballet and contemporary dance semiprofessionally for over twenty-five years revealed that she knows of the Pangalay, but, when shown a video of an excerpt performed by the Alun Alun Dance Circle, she failed to identify the dance as such. She added that she remembers seeing Ramon Obusan's Pangalay, which she recalls as a "totally different dance."

     Despite the popularity of the Pangalay in academic discourse, engendered by Amilbangsa's book and performing group, as well as the prolificacy of a version of the Pangalay in the repertoire of folk dance companies and other performing groups, the dance form remains somewhat unknown to the general Philippine public. The following conversation I had with two Zamboanga natives, one Muslim, the other Christian, on the Pangalay is very revealing in this respect, given that they both grew up in a place close to the home of the dance form (author's fieldnotes, 2012).

Pangalay as Philippine or Tribal: Two Contrasting Views

"Anne"8 is a Muslim Filipino living in Metro Manila, an umbrella term for several cities surrounding and comprising metropolitan Manila. She grew up in Zamboanga and is a member of the Yakan community, though she attests that she had a very urban upbringing, having been raised in the city. "Jenny" is a Christian Filipino, also living in Metro Manila, though her hometown is also Zamboanga. Like Anne, she was raised in the city. Of these two women, Anne knows of the Pangalay and has seen performances of it. She expressed surprise that I, a Christian who grew up in Metro Manila, would know the Pangalay and be able to discuss it at length.

     Meanwhile, Jenny does not know what the Pangalay is. When I described it to her as the dance with the long, metal fingernails, she identified it as "Singkil!" Although traditionally, the Singkil dance is usually performed without janggay, it is possible that Jenny had seen a version in which the female lead was wearing these finger wands (see Figure 4). It is also possible that Jenny simply mistook these dances for each other, since they share nuances of movement, stances, and performance aplomb.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Pangalay dancer wearing the janggay or metal fingernails, as performed by the Jambasamatau group of Tawi Tawi. Photo by MCM Santamaria.

     Anne knows what the Pangalay is and that it is a dance of the Tausug people; when asked about the Igal dance, it was the first time she had heard the word. Interestingly, she cannot list the Yakan dances by name, despite coming from that community. She admits that this is because she is not as fond of dancing as some of her friends (she mentions that Jenny may know more because she used to do folk dance at school). Anne believes she might have seen more native dancing had she lived in the mountains. The dances she has seen performed by members of her community were at a wedding dance, wherein the bride does not actually dance but is lifted and carried around while the groom and his groomsmen dance in the space. She does not know the title of this particular dance, aside from calling it a "Yakan dance."

     Anne has also clearly mistaken the Singkil and the Tinikling dances for each other. Oddly enough, she is more familiar with the name "Tinikling," even though it is the Singkil dance that she describes, with the four bamboo rods criss-crossed on the floor, banging into each other as dancers move in between the collisions, one dancer holding an umbrella. She is not aware of the differences.

     Jenny does know the difference between the dances and believes that "one is Muslim, the other is Filipino." Further questioning leads Jenny to affirm that, for her, the Tinikling dance is more representative of Philippine culture because "there are more farmers than there are Muslims," an idea stemming from the widespread belief that the Tinikling dance is performed as a reprieve from a hard day's work toiling in the fields.

     In contrast, while Anne believes that the Pangalay is a Philippine dance form, she also believes that nobody from her tribe should perform it because it does not "belong" to them. The ownership question is more of an issue for her than worries about incorrect performance. She shared an anecdote, wherein the term "Yakan dance" is used by other members of her tribe in the context of a local competition in Zamboanga. The dance contest offered a cash prize for groups with the best dance entry, and a few of her friends, who were all ethnically Yakan, got together to perform their "Yakan dance," learning it quickly over the weekend. In the contest, a school dance troupe that was not Yakan performed the same dance but had obviously practiced harder and they won the award. Anne's friends came home, indignant that points had not been awarded to them on the basis that theirs was the "real Yakan dance." But everyone in their community indeed found this irony hilarious. Anne asserted that the Tausug and other groups from Sulu that perform the Pangalay might feel offended if they saw their dance performed incorrectly by "outsiders." When asked if she feels that the Pangalay is a Philippine dance form, however, she does not hesitate to respond positively. Anne's perceptions of the Pangalay show how, in a venue where several cultures coexist, respect for tribal ownership of a dance is not incompatible with an appreciation for and even a sense of pride in the collective corpus of dances as one tradition, on a national level.

Concluding Remarks

Dancing is an activity so prevalent in Philippine culture that, ironically, it is frequently taken for granted. Perhaps the vast diversity and multiplicity of cultures create the perception that there is too much to learn. There is no denying that Reyes-Aquino deserved her National Artist Award in Dance for the collection of descriptions of all the dances that appear in her six-volume work (Aquino 1953), but I maintain that further research is needed to improve this collection by updating, trimming, expanding, and correcting, where necessary, especially when it comes to the classification and categories of dances. Instead, however, this series is treated as a sacred text, primarily because, as a National Artist, Aquino's contribution is considered unquestionable. There is much information therein, certainly, but effective reorganization and dissemination of this information requires the work of many more scholars.

     I note, however, that this process of revision is not without its political difficulties among dance scholars and practitioners. For example, while researching the Pangalay in the capital and two municipalities of Tawi Tawi, an island province within the Sulu archipelago, Santamaria discovered that the natives of this province differentiated the Pangalay from the Igal. He maintains that the Igal was really the Pangalay dance in practice, and that the Pangalay gained popularity because it was published in a book under that name. Not surprisingly, reactions from Amilbangsa's group to this claim were hostile, accusing Santamaria of negating Amilbangsa's original research instead of viewing it as the discovery of new knowledge. As the acknowledged expert in Pangalay, it was presumed that Amilbangsa could not be wrong, in the same manner that Aquino's research is thought to be unquestionable.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Bajau children learning the Igal in Sempornah, Sabah. Photo by Hanafi Hussin.

     Amilbangsa's advocacy for the Pangalay is worthy in that she seeks to keep the tradition alive so that future generations will keep performing this age-old form that was practiced before the people who danced it were converted to Islam. As such, her commitment leans towards "inventing tradition," perhaps without her realizing that this is so. Clearly, it would be beneficial if she could update her research or allow others to continue the research for her.

     My account of problems with the classification and categorization of dances in the Philippines and their documentation seeks to show how the development of a national heritage is not without contestation, as multiple cultural groups struggle to retain their identity and independence on a tribal level within the unified arena that is nationhood. Acceptance of a particular dance as a "Philippine dance" without understanding the specific local context of its origins and practice can only lead to misrepresentation of the local community and ultimately affect a dance's social and cultural value. Classifying the Pangalay as an "Asian dance" that somehow represents a national "Philippine culture" only confuses the issue. To represent Philippine culture, the Pangalay must first be accepted by Filipinos themselves as a "Philippine dance," in both the local context and that of the emerging nation. Heritage makers could aid in establishing this national heritage by abandoning the notion that the Pangalay is somehow both Philippine and Asian, while simultaneously addressing issues of ownership, authenticity and diversity.


1 Amilbangsa's essay is at, the website of the Alun Alun Dance Circle, the performing group founded by Ligaya Amilbangsa, of which she is the artistic director. On the bottom footer of the website, a copyright is indicated from 1999-2013, although this may reflect the length of time that the Alun Alun Dance Circle has been in operations, as stated on the website's profile page: It would be safe to say that the article "The Pangalay Dance Style" may have been uploaded to the website as early as January 2007, which is the oldest date of the archives of articles on the site, and written before then.

2 Data on the Philippines was taken from the official website of the National Statistics Office of the Republic of the Philippines, found at and retrieved on June 25, 2012, and from the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, edited at the Office of the President of the Philippines under Commonwealth Act No. 638, found at Created during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's term as Philippine president, this report details the status of the country in several aspects. On the current version of the website,, it is not clear where an update of this report can be found.

3 Overviews of the history of Philippine dance are found in Basilio Esteban Villaruz's Sayaw: An Essay on Philippine Dance, which was published as a short monograph by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1989, then included in the Tuklas Sining series (1991). The overview is expanded in the volume on dance in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994), of which Villaruz was the area editor. This paper quotes essays by Villaruz and Amilbangsa from that volume.

4 Francisca Reyes book, Philippine National Dances (1946), was published in New York while she was Francisca Reyes-Tolentino. After her first husband's death, she remarried, and most of her work is published as Francisca Reyes-Aquino.

5 The Bayanihan group categorizes their repertoire using the word "suite" to portray the rich diversity within the Philippine nation. All the suites are performed by the company at most engagements, shortening the repertoire when necessary by removing a few dances from each suite. The Instructional Video series (2002) shows how to perform the dances step by step.

6 The remaining chapters in Alejandro (2002) are about social and theatrical dance. The ballet and modern/contemporary dance components and companies are lumped together with musical theater performances and TV shows on ballroom and popular dances.

7 See Santamaria (2005) for his argument of the problems with Alejandro's labeling traditional and contemporary dance.

8 "Anne" and "Jenny" are not the real names of the respondents.


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—— (ed.)
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