One of the most horrifying experiences to happen to a student with two left feet is to be picked as one of the folk dancers in a high school day presentation. I not only remember the moment of selection, but also the title of the dance—it was a strangely-named dance called “Pandanggo Buraweño". Thank God, we didn’t have to wear funny costumes like the “Manlalatik” dancers and their ‘coconut bras’ or use unwieldy props like the sticks for “Sakuting”. It was just a simple dance that we practiced after school hours, and our performance was just as simple and forgettable.
Our Philippine dance tradition started long before the Spaniards reached our shores. When Magellan arrived in Cebu, chronicler Antonio de Pigafetta took note of the song-and-dance entertainment provided by the natives. Ritualistic dances such as those done by babaylans and the hunting dances of ethnic tribes are raw expressions of the Filipino soul.
Indeed, there were dances for just about everything—birth, courtship, wedding, religion, death—and the coming of colonizers further enriched the choreography of our dances. From Spain came the jota, pandanggo and habanera while the French contributed the rigodon and the minuete (minuet). In Ilocos, a dance called Ba-Ingles was obviously adapted from Americans.
Kapampangans with their nimble feet and love for music and rhythms have also taken to dancing early on. Our few signature dances have not reached the level of national awareness the way the “tinikling”, “singkil” and even the fairly new “itik-itik” have, which had the benefit of being performed by professional troupes the world over----not yet, anyway. But with the recent exposures of our local festivals on television, Pampanga’s dances are becoming hit attractions.
No other Philippine dance is as frenetic as the kuraldal, a dance originally performed in Sasmuan on Dec. 13 to honor its patron, Santa Lucia. They say it’s Pampanga’s counterpart of the Obando fertility dance—in kuraldal, people dance not only for good health, but barren women also ask for babies. But kuraldal is wilder, characterized by swaying and jumping to the beat of kuraldal music. People dance non-stop, and the infectious beat can sometimes have a hypnotic effect on the participants, who enter a trance-like state while dancing for hours. The kuraldal practice has also spilled over to other Pampanga towns like Betis, in which the 24 handpicked participants are expected to teach the dance to their children.
The origin of kuraldal is not really known; it may have originated from tribal dances that eventually melded into Christian rites. Or the Augustinian missionaries may have introduced it as part of their para-liturgical rituals in bringing the faith from inside the church to the outside community.
Another dance performed in Pampanga is “katlu”, which is also known in nearby Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. When hardworking lads came to help the rural lasses pound their palay on the mortar (asung) and pestle (alung), a new dance was born, with couples moving to the beat of pounding rice. “Katlu” was quickly transformed into a courtship dance ritual.
Then there’s the “sapatya”, originally presented by farmers during the harvest season. Characterized by graceful steps and hand movements, it is believed to have been derived from the Spanish, “zapateado”, or shod with shoes. Sapatya has evolved into many versions, and there is one, performed in Bacolor on the Pasig-Potrero river, where ladies, wearing buri hats, dance precariously on a bangka. In Porac, the dancing of sapatya is accompanied by the singing of pulosa, further living up the moment.
Dancing has come a long way since, and through the years, the influence of global pop culture has changed the way we move on the dancefloor. Through the years, we have waltzed, tangoed, boogied, jerked, shimmied, elephant walked, salsa-ed, and spaghetti-ed our way to fun, fitness and frenzy. That is all very good, but once in a while, when your twinkletoes are in the mood to learn something new—try learning something old. Like the kuraldal. Or the sapatya. Or katlu. It’s a step towards perpetuating our rich tradition for the next generation to appreciate. I can’t think of a better move.
Let’s dance to that!