Sensuous Singkil 1

Singkil dance of Mindanao

The character of Putri Gandingan, a lovely princess, is the central figure in the Singkil dance.

March 2014:  My camera has been idle for some months.  The demand from work has taken over most of my time and the accompanying pressure had almost killed my enthusiasm for photography.  But, just as I was running out of ideas and images for this site, I was invited to a convention that enlisted the participation of all the ethnic tribes of Mindanao and the nights of the convention featured cultural shows from each of these tribes.

Singkil dance of Mindanao

The most captivating portion of the dance is when the lead dancer starts stepping in and out of the criss-crossing and rapidly closing and opening pairs of bamboo poles

For the past years,  the island of Mindanao has gained notoriety as a dangerous place characterized by an on-going conflict between government and rebel forces and kidnapping incidents that caught international attention.  But, as in many conflict-affected places, once the conflicts and dangers are treated in isolation and the local culture is given focus; one would surely find a treasure trove of amazing richness and vibrancy that is often unique to the place and should have taken the front stage rather the adverse publicity that often dominates the headlines.

Sngkil dance of Mindanao

After carefully setting the timing, the lead dancer starts stepping in and out of the closing bamboo poles

And so, there I was, once again mixing work and hobby, doing my regular work and representing a global organization but, at the same time, also holding a camera to be able to capture and eventually share the moment.  The Singkil is the most popular cultural dance of Mindanao.    The dance originated from the Maranao people who inhabit the shores of Lake Lanao. The storyline is derived from a tale in the Darangen, the Maranao interpretation of the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana. The name of the dance itself means “to entangle the feet with disturbing objects such as vines or anything in your path”.


From a slow rhythm, the clapping sound of the bamboo poles gathers speed and so do the steps of the dancer who must avoid getting clipped by the closing poles while gracefully dancing around often without looking into where she was placing her feet

Being one of the guests of honor of the event, I was given the best seat in the nightly cultural shows and was even requested to become one of the judges.  That gave me the best vantage point if I were just an audience but it also pinned me down to a single spot and drastically limited my options for angling my shots.  Nevertheless, I was deeply captivated by the shows, dance after dance, from one step and finger flick to another, such that, on several instances,  I chose to view the colorful, breath-taking movements with my bare eyes rather than witness them through my viewfinder.  And, in  a single night, the audience was treated to three versions of Singkil — each of them as unique and captivating as the other and I wouldn’t have complained if I was shown the same set of dances for another night.

Singkil dance of Mindanao

And then, after doing the heart-stopping stunt with the bamboo poles, it was time to draw the attention to her beauty and grace once again

This series shares the images from the three Singkil versions presented by contingents from the colorful Maranao and Maguindanaon people of exotic Mindanao.