Nicholas Virtue is a student at Quartz Hill High School and has participated in the tinikling dance team for two years. The Multicultural Club at QHHS hosts an assembly annualy, in which a variety of dances and cultural experiences from countries around the world are made available are performed for students. Some examples of performances have been hispanic dances, bollywood, tae kwon doe and karate. The tinikling dance team was put together for this assembly, and their performance is considered the most anticipated and well-loved of the assembly. Although he had no Filipino background, Nic started to participate in this dance his freshman year of high school, at 15 years old. Nic described the performance of the QHHS tinikling dance team at the Multicultural Assembly to me.
Tinikling is a Filipino dance, using 4 pairs of approximately 6 foot long bamboo poles. Each pair of sticks is used by two clappers and three dancers. The clappers clap the sticks together, keeping a steady beat throughout the song while dancers dance through them. It is perceived has a dangerous dance, because any fault could result in the bamboo sticks clapping on feet and injuring them.
The music has a ¾ time signature and no lyrics. Nic described their song as upbeat, using high stringed instruments. He also observed that the noise from clapping the sticks fits into the song, and becomes a part of it. About halfway through the song it begins to get faster, making it more and more challenging for clappers and dancers. The QHHS tinikling team wears the same clothes every year for the Multicultural Assembly performance. No one wears shoes or socks, either during rehearsal or performance. Guys wear red slims rolled up to the knee, a white v neck, and a red bandana around the neck. Girls wear a white v neck as well, but with no bandana. They each wear either green or red skirts, depending on their role in the dance. Typically, there is a different choreography for “girl 1” and “girl 2,” and the color of their skirt depends on their role in the dance.
Since the song is in ¾ time the clappers hit the sticks on the ground beats one and two, then clap them together on beat three. Consequently, the dancers must have their foot out of the sticks on beat three, otherwise they could be injured; leaving them time to dance between the sticks on beats one and two. Some of the basic dance moves include the single, half turn, full turn and front and back. Singles move dancers from one side of sticks to the other. Half turns rotate dancers 180 degrees and to the other side of the sticks. Full turns are complete 360 degree spins. Front and backs take 6 beats to complete, going to one side then back again, leaving the dancer on the same side of the sticks.
While dancers are responsible for their moves through the sticks, clappers are responsible for the movement of the sticks themselves. Stick transitions involve clappers and sometimes even the dancers to move sticks to different formations and have people dancing through the sticks while it is happening, or immediately after the transition is completed. For the most recent Multicultural Assembly, the tinikling team used 4 pairs of sticks, making the plus formation, a square, “ the death box” which resembles a hashtag and was described as the most dangerous and injury-infliction formation, and “the soul train” where all sticks are parallel to each other.
As a clapper, one of Nic’s favorite parts is stick passing. Executed in the plus formation, the inside clappers set down one of their sticks to the person on their right side, who would grab that stick and drag it across, while the outside clapper throws the stick to them (their left). The same thing is repeated in reverse, and sticks are passed in the opposite direction as inside clappers pass to their left and outside clappers throw to their right. All the while, dancers dance between the sticks and jump over them when they are thrown. As complicated as stick passing is to explain, it is even more so to learn and execute. It takes a heightened degree of teamwork to accomplish stick passing successfully. After stick passing, which occurs at the end of the routine during the quickening tempo, the each clapper lifts up the right stick, making four X formations for the final pose.
Nic exemplified the connection a clapper has to their set of sticks by describing each set and labeling one as his own. As stated previously, QHHS used four sets of sticks with four different qualities. Each set was marked with a different color duct tape, blue, red, yellow and white; possibly emulating the colors of the Filipino flag. Blue sticks are the heaviest, and the ones Nic claimed as his own, yellow are the most awkward with one stick too small and the other too large, red are the straightest and most comfortable and white are the lightest. This helps dancers and clappers know which sticks are theirs as they practice with them throughout the year. Nic said having his own set of sticks gave him a personal connection and reminded him of his part in the dance. Each set of sticks brings together a set of two clappers and three dancers (one boy and two girls) as they work together to prepare for the assembly.
Nic began tinikling his freshman year because he had heard it was a fun group of people. His desire to develop community and make friends drew him to tinikling, despite his lack of Filipino background. The challenges and high stakes of tinikling draw the community together in order to achieve their goal and perform at the assembly. Some of the stick transitions and dances require teamwork, exemplified by “the death box.” During this transition, two sets of clappers flip their sticks over the heads of the other two sets of clappers, laying their sticks in a hashtag across each other. The dancers then enter into this box, one after another. If clappers do not transition correctly or clap in time, or if the dancers hesitate and don’t enter the box on the correct beat, not only is the dance move ruined, but there is a high change of head or foot injury. The high stakes motivate dancers and clappers to work together, developing community along the way.
The following video is the QHHS Tinikling team at the 2013 Multicultural Assembly. The video with the opening choreography. Then the dancers and clappers switch positions and there is a transition from the plus stick formation to a square formation.