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'Mocking' birds in Perham

Stella Raser.

Mimicking birds escaping from bamboo traps is something a group of first graders knows a lot about.

Practicing since February, the students in Ann Kostynick's class at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School are now skilled in the Philippine "tinikling" dance form. Using bamboo sticks and donning masks, the students' take on the traditional folk dance is colorful and full of energy.

Pasibeth Seeman, who was born and raised in the Philippines, is volunteering her time to introduce this rich cultural tradition from her native country to Perham students. "It is difficult; it takes a lot of discipline and practice," Seeman acknowledges. "But, of course, you've got to have fun. Otherwise, it would just get boring."

Seeman first contemplated the notion of teaching dance to the first graders when she filled out a volunteer interest form at the beginning of the year. Seeman's daughter, Crisavydeñil, is one of the students in Kostynick's class. "My volunteer work is part of the school's objective to let the parents get involved with their kids' school activities," Seeman explains.

The idea of learning tinikling in school was a natural thought for Seeman, who was instructed in the dance throughout her elementary school years in the Philippines. She says the dance remained a part of her life, even through high school.

To make the dance more enjoyable for the young Perham dancers, Seeman purchased colorful feathered masks for the kids to wear-complementing the bird movements the students imitate in the dance.

Ann Kostynick says she's grateful for the interest Seeman has taken in the class, donating both materials and her time. "Teachers are working hard to bring the arts into the school; especially with all of the cuts in music and the arts," says Kostynick.

The culmination of the students' months of tinikling practice will be the first graders' Spring Festival on Thursday, April 29. The students will perform their dance for the public at 6:30 p.m. in the Perham High School Auditorium.

According to the Philippine Information Agency, "tinikling," which means tikling-like, is the official Philippine national dance. It is the most popular and best-known of the Philippine dances, and a popular folk dance abroad.

Tinikling has been included in the folk dance curricula of many countries around the world. In fact, there is one tinikling-like dance in Mexico believed to have been brought there by a former Mexican missionary in the Philippines. Members of the Ballet Folklorico de Mejico eagerly showed the Bayanihan (a Philippine group of cultural dancers) in one European folk festival where both groups were participating.

This spectacular dance is a favorite in the Visayan Islands, especially in the provinces of Leyte and Samar, Philippines. It is considered one of the oldest dances from the Philippines.

The dance derived its name from the bird tikling (rail bird) because the dance steps are mimetic of that bird's movements. Dancers imitate the tikling bird's legendary grace and speed by skillfully maneuvering between large bamboo poles.

This is similar to the movement of tikling birds as they walk between grass stems, run over tree branches, or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. The farmers would set bitik traps (called si-ay or patibong in Samar), made of bamboo to catch the birds. Through careful maneuvering, the birds would often manage to escape from the bamboo traps.

In English, tinikling means "bamboo dance." The bamboo poles in the dance are used in a playful way to try to trap the dancers' feet.

The performers dance at the sides of and between two bamboo poles, which are placed horizontally on the ground. The poles are struck in time with the music. Skill is demonstrated in dancing between the bamboo poles without getting one's feet caught by the poles.

The dance is highly entertaining to watch, as the feet of the dancers nimbly jump out of the way of the bamboo sticks. The tinikling is not only a globally recognized dance, but also an art form and a unique challenge.