Monday, January 20, 2014

Tinikling! A fun, high energy dance from the Philippines!

In my music room, January is time to dance and move! I love incorporating folk dance in my music classes and that includes tinkling!

When I first began teaching at my current elementary school, I was initially confused when I discovered a collection of 8 ft PVC pipes and 2" x 4" pieces of lumber in the music room. (?) After asking other music teachers around the district, I was told that these were used for Tinikling dance, the traditional national dance of the Philippines. There is a lot of history regarding this dance between poles. Traditional tinkling utilizes music moving in 3s with the poles hitting the ground on 1 and clicked together on 2 and 3:

In most western and modern day tinkling, music moving in 4s is used. ("floor, floor, click, click") (If you look around on YouTube you can find several modern Tinikling groups who choreograph modern routines to hip hop and rap.)
Here is  why I incorporated tinkling each year in my music room.

  • enforces beat awareness
  • enforces phrase and form awareness
  • requires teamwork
  • gives students a glimpse of a traditional dance from another culture

I do know teachers who do tinkling with grade levels as young as 3rd but I save this for my 5th and 6th graders because they have the maturity to handle the tinkling poles safely, (most of the time!)

Equipment for a class of 30

  • 10 PVC pipes cut into 8' pieces (traditional tinkling poles are bamboo but PVC pipe is much cheaper and readily available at hard ware stores
  • 10 2" x 4" blocks with lines drawn on showing where poles should hit, (about hip distance apart.)
  • Music 115-135 beats per minute (125 is about perfect. Think "YMCA")

Each tinkling "team" is 4 members, 2 dancers and 2 "clappers" (that's my label for the pole operators,  I don't know if there is an official label for them.)

Preparation for tinikling:
Before even breaking into teams and dragging out poles we practice a few things.

Clapper duties:
  • Perform the clapper pattern: Pat legs 2 times, then clap  2 times.
  • Count your team in with recorded music. (Everyone must be able to say, "1, 2, ready, GO!" with the 4 beats just before a phrase starts.) I play a song, ("YMCA" is a good one to start with because many kids already know it,) and we start and stop the clapper pattern several times with the phrase.
Dancer duties:
  • Perform beginning steps without poles while saying the steps. For the straddle step we say "in, in, out, out" while our feet straddle and jump apart twice and then jump feet together twice. (It makes much more sense when you see the video below!)
I always give the students a pattern of words for each step. Often the clappers can speak the pattern while the dancers are moving. Once students are in teams and using poles, don't forget to switch them frequently! We practice in groups with poles stationary first (clappers simply hold the poles down on the 2" x 4"s)

Tinikling Steps

Tinikling can become as elaborate as you want but here are some simple beginning steps.

Straddle Jump (actually more basic than the "basic step")
Feet jump inside of the poles twice and then straddle and jump outside the poles twice.
(Say "in, in, out, out")

Basic Step
A hop is on one foot, a jump is on two.
(Say "in, in, out, hop")

Hopscotch Step
One foot hops inside the pools twice, both feet jump out (straddle) twice.
(Say "hop, hop, both, both")

Hopscotch Step with a turn

Stride Jump
Jump feet inside twice then jump twice on one side of the poles, feet jump in, then jump twice on the other side of the poles.
(This one's quickly exhausting!)

There are many possibilities with tinkling. If you have the space, it's fun to set up the poles in a circle formation and have domes dancers move though the sets of poles clockwise while others move counter-clockwise. (Wouldn't this be a great collaboration with the PE teacher?)

One of my student's favorite formations is just moving through the poles in a line, (bonus: they get to rest while standing in line to go through the poles again!)

Having a "freestyle" time where students get to make up their own moves allows them to get creative with their moves. My freestyle rule is: "On your feet and on the beat!" (No, we can't do handstands. I don't have time for the ER today!)

Recorded Music to Use
(My favorite part!)
I consider it my responsibility (and my privilege!) to introduce kids to wonderful music they may never hear anywhere else in their day to day life. This idea doesn't stop with folk songs or "classical" music! I consider myself an eclectic music lover and there are lots of great up tempo songs kids enjoy once they are introduced to them. (Yes, you could  just play the latest Katy Perry hit but they already hear that everyday.) I might start off with a well-known pop hit to get their attention and I include songs that they already know and love, but much of the time I'm playing more obscure (to them) songs.
Here are my tinkling "greatest hits." Maybe a few of these will work for you!

Tanya's Tinikling Tunes
Jump in the Line - Harry Belafonte
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) - Arcade Fire
Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - The Beatles (118 bpm, almost too slow)
Boogie Shoes - K.C. & The Sunshine Band (another slower one, good for more complicated steps)
Y.M.C.A. - The Village People (125 bpm, about perfect and kids still love it)
Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
Sixteen Saltines - Jack White (a fav of the 6th graders)
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
Thriller - Michael Jackson (add those zombie/thriller arms as you move!)
Song 2 - Blur (The kids LOVE this one, it's very high energy with a break out chorus. I adore Blur.)
Young Folks - Peter Bjorn and John (Whistling intro!)
Nausea - Beck
I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You - Black Kids
Tell 'Em - Sleigh Bells
A/B Machines - Sleigh Bells

I love the possibilities with tinkling. I've had kids choreograph their own routines after mapping out the form of a song (I've used Seven Nation Army and Song 2), and perform for kindergarteners and first graders, and I've invited teachers to join us for a few steps. 
There is a fabulous music teacher in my district who has an after school tinkling team that tours and performs for other elementary schools each spring. I've barely scratched the surface in this post!

Anyone else out there tinkle? Please share your techniques, favorite steps, or favorite songs!

Have a great week!


  1. Hi! This looks like so much fun. I've thought it about it for quite awhile and your post has inspired me. What size PVC pipe do you use? 1 inch? 1 1-2 inch? I don't want the poles to be too flimsy. Thanks for your help.

  2. I use 1 inch poles and they are about 8 feet long. The 2 x 4 blocks of wood are really important to have, too. It is a lot of fun! Looking over my post I realize I didn't stress all the safety issues that should be covered during tinikling. I hope any teacher reading understands that it's crucial to have procedures for getting the poles set in groups, ("we walk across the room holding the poles parallel to the floor!") safety rules and a "no horsing around" policy.

  3. Can you use jump bands? I've seen several posts about this and I was wondering what your thoughts were.

    1. You could definitely do the same steps with jump bands. I haven't used those before but I would use jump bands if I were doing these steps with younger students. The wonderful thing about the poles is the beat patten the "clappers" perform and that satisfying "click, click" of the poles coming together. That ensures that all students in the group are engaged and actively keeping the beat. But if you have jump bands, why not use them? Go for it!

  4. Oh, Tanya! I am so glad to have stumbled upon this post today! I have been wanting to do a tinikling unit toward the end of the year with my 5ths for a couple years now and decided that THIS is the year it's happening. I have a great group of students coming up into 5th that will be perfect guinea pigs. ;-) Now that I've found this post it will take MUCH less time to plan. Thanks!

    My Musical Menagerie: Kodaly and Orff Classroom

    1. I'm glad you found useful info, Malinda! Yes, Tinikling will be perfect for your 5th graders!

  5. Sounds like fun! Where's the video mentioned in the blog?

  6. How long are your sections of 2x4 lumber, please? I love this!

  7. Thanks for this!

    I haven't had the nerve to try it, and it works really well.