Pangalay Dance

The Pangalay Dance Style of the Philippines: An Intangible Cultural Heritage

A Paper by Ms. Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, Intangible Cultural Heritage Practitioner
Artistic Director, Alun-Alun Dance Circle

Pangalay: literally, a gift offering.

Pangalay also means “temple of dance” in Sanskrit. Pangalay antedates Christianity and Islam in the Philippines. Among Philippine indigenous dances, the pangalay dance style has the richest movement vocabulary. It is the closest to a classical form.

Pangalay is a living link to the traditional dance cultures of Asia with closest affinity to the Indian, Javanese, Thai, Burmese and Cambodian styles of classical dancing.

A living artifact such as the pangalay must be danced constantly, or else it dies. The beauty of the pangalay dance style is that it can be danced to any type of music—Asian as well as Western. The pangalay can be danced by anyone and everyone in the community, regardless of age or status. It can be danced in any space—be it on a boat, on a house-porch or on the beach.

Pangalay is basically pure dancing. A sense of anti-linear time pervades the slow, refined, meditative, elegant and almost hypnotic movements. The continuously flowing or seamless unfolding movement from a central core is consistent with the pre-modern mode and Eastern sense of multi-level or anti-linear time that has no definite beginning or ending. This is opposed to the Western concept of time or the metempsychosic scale.

The dancer’s serious face with downcast eyes creates a mask-like expression, matched by a countenance generally refined, dignified but without stiffness.

The dancer’s torso is slightly bent forward, a stance seen in Asian dance forms, Unnecessary hip and torso movement is tabbo. The knees are slightly bent or flexed. Male dancers also splay the knees. Performers achieve the illusion of lightness by the very subtle springing motion from the knees.

Feeling is conveyed chiefly through the arms and hands. Fingers are customarily held stiffly together and curled back towards the dancer’s wrists with controlled energy, thumbs apart and thrust forward. Fingers may flick, flip or flutter. The janggay or metal claws amplify eloquent hand movements.

Shifting arm positions to assume new postures or gestures is accomplished by turning the hands from the wrists with one outward-inward movement, two outward-inward motions or inward-inward motions.

Postures and gestures suggest emotional metaphors and symbols that offer a broad range of expression. For instance: outstretched palms and arms can stand for salutation, welcome or joy; or, as a symbol of things in nature such as a palm leaf, flowers, sea waves, the wind, sea weeds, a bird and a flutter of wings.

Crossed arms and hands at chest or face level signal a protective or playful impulse. Overhead hand positions display triumph, extreme happiness, jubilation or sudden increase in status.

Sculpture-like poses, cross-legged and kneeling stances, coupled with flowing gestures with the arms extended farthest away from the body convey a sense of infinite distance and timelessness.

“Motion in stillness, stillness in motions” – this is the pangalay.