Filipino dance makes a comeback in Juneau

Ell Pecson tries out tinikling at the Zach Gordon Youth Center in Juneau on June 29, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Filipino dance groups used to be a big deal in Juneau. There were multiple troupes who practiced regularly and performed at the Filipino Community Hall. They even danced at high school basketball games. But that was 15 years ago.

Participation waned over the years, but David Abad, who grew up in Juneau’s Filipino community, wants to revive it. So he set up a workshop at Juneau’s Zach Gordon Youth Center called Tinikling 101.

Tinikling is a traditional folk dance from the Visayas region of the Philippines. Two people get on either end of two long bamboo poles and clap them together. Dancers jump in and out of the poles in between claps, deftly keeping from getting their ankles whacked. They look like the dance’s namesake tikling bird trying to avoid a foot snare set by rice farmers.

Abad bought the 8-foot long bamboo poles for the workshop on Etsy.

David Abad teaching tinikling to youth at the Zach Gordon Youth Center in Juneau on June 29, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

“They were really hard to find,” he said. It was especially hard to get someone to ship them to Alaska.

The clinic started with some inspiration. The group of about a dozen kids watched a video of a group of college students performing the dance to the song “Dolla Sign Slime” by hip-hop artist Lil Nas X, rather than the traditional Spanish rondalla. The choreography is truly impressive. They are fast on their feet, jumping in and out of the poles while spinning or even kneeling down between the poles for a split second before escaping. The crowd in the video cheered, and so did the kids watching at the clinic.

“These are my tinikling goals,” Abad said.

When it was time for the group to try it out, Abad asked for volunteers to be the clappers — the people who tap the poles twice on the ground and then snap them together in the middle.

“When I was a dancer, I didn’t used to think about the clappers,” Abad said. “But they are so important because they get to control the speed. They are super crucial.”

It took awhile to get the rhythm down: Click, click, clap. Click, click, clap. But once it got going, you could see it getting stuck in everyone’s head.

Kay Roldan said she could feel it in her body. She used to dance with Abad back in the day, but it’s been at least ten years since she’s done it. This clinic was the first time she’d seen anyone bring out the sticks in Juneau since she was a teenager.

Jennifer Lagundino brought her 5-year-old daughter Daryl.

“Her dad is Filipino, and she’s been asking to learn Filipino dance,” Lagundino said.

Daryl Lagundino learning tinikling at the Zach Gordon Youth Center in Juneau on June 29, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Daryl sat in front of her mom and wrapped her tiny hands around the fat bamboo pole while they worked it together. But it wasn’t long before she wanted to be the dancer, too. She said she knew ballet already — and she was very light on her feet as she jumped on her tiptoes in and out of the poles. She seemed instantly converted.

The clinic lasted for two hours. Everyone tried both roles — clapper and dancer — a few times. People were sweaty and panting after their turn.

Abad was lit up. He wants people to get back into tinikling. He wants to teach and coach and choreograph for a troupe.

When he was young, in the early 2000s, there were at least 50 Filipino kids who danced regularly. When they danced at the Filipino Community Hall, he says they were proud. But when they started dancing at high school basketball games and other non-Filipino spaces, he said it became more of a secret for him. He stopped dancing in high school.

So the small crowd was inspiring to him. There wasn’t just interest, there was enthusiasm — from Filipino kids and kids who said they were “kinda” Filipino, and one who said tinikling made them wish they were Filipino.

America Amplified

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This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Jennifer Pemberton

Managing Editor, KTOO

I bring stories from the community into the KTOO newsroom so that all of our reporting matters. I want to hear my community’s struggles and its wins reflected in our coverage. Does our reporting reflect your experience in Juneau?

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