"Temple of Dance?”: Interrogating the Sanskritization of Pangalay

This is an excerpt from Dr. MCM Santamaria's “Temple of Dance?”: Interrogating the Sanskritization of Pangalay (2016) published in the Asian Studies Journal.

Access the full paper here.


Introduction: Pangalay, Igal and Pamansak in Philippine Dance Literature

Prior to discussing the problem of extreme Indianization of the pangalay dance tradition, it would be most informative to review the literature on the dance form in order to find out how it is portrayed in relation to other dances found in the Sulu and Tawi-Tawi archipelagoes. This section traces the appearance of pangalay in Philippine scholarship and provides information on its relationship with igal and pamansak, the two other dance traditions found in the region.

The Tausug pangalay dance tradition appears for the first time in Philippine scholarly literature in a Bureau of Public Schools publication instructional book, Philippine Folk Dances and Songs. The preparation of the material for the book is attributed to a team headed by Francisca Reyes Aquino (1966)1 who, later on, was named Philippine National Artist in Dance. The dance label appears together with igal, a dance label associated, among others, with the Sama Sitangkai, Sama Kubang and Sama Tabawan, and pamansak, a dance label associated with the Yakan, Sama Bangingi, and Sama Siasi. Aquino (1966) further notes that she observed pangalay in Jolo, pamansak in Siasi, and igal in Sitangkai. Without distinguishing across ethnolinguistic lines, she states that “these three dances are performed in these three different places with slight variations and combinations of steps and arm movements, but with the same basic steps, arm and hand movements” (136). It should be emphasized that Aquino’s text mentioned “three dances.” Therefore, by implication, she differentiates among the three forms while acknowledging a shared vocabulary of “basic steps, arm and hand movements.” This highly nuanced relational distinction, as will be shown later in this piece, appears to have been unappreciated or lost in the works of subsequent generations of scholars.

Pangalay, later on, reappears in an updated tome by Sixto Y. Orosa (1970)2, the former District Health Officer of Sulu Province who served during the early American colonial period. He is also the father of writers Rosalinda Orosa and Leonor Orosa Goquingco, who persuaded him to republish his book, which was originally released in 1923. Goquingco eventually became National Artist in Dance in 1976. Pangalay does not appear in the original text of the book. Instead, it is contained in a supplementary chapter titled “Muslim Filipinos: They are made up of ten distinct groups.” While insisting on the “distinction” of identity among ten Muslim Filipino groups, Orosa negates this with a blanket description of commonality in dance.

All of the Muslim dances, like those of Java, are characterized by strict attention to posture and the position of hands and arms. Some of these are the Magsayaw or spear dance, the magpanhaly tauty, representing a man fishing; the magpanhaly, a posture dance performed by men and women; and the magdoonsy, or dance of love. This last one is performed by girls and boys in equal number in the light of the moon.3

It is interesting to point out that Orosa uses Tausug labels for mostly Sama dances. Magsayaw is most likely Igal Tumbak (literally “spear dance” among the Sama Tabawan) or Igal Sayau (“warrior dance” among the Sama Kubang). Magpanhaly tauti (a.k.a. pangalay tauti-tauti) is most probably igal baki-baki (dance of the fishers of sea catfish among the Sama Sitangkai). Beyond doubt, magpanhaly is magpangalay (Tausug, verb infinitive: to dance), while magdoonsy is the lunsay (a.k.a. lunsai among the Jama Mapun and runsai among the Sama Kota Belud). This Tausug-centric point-of-view is understandable, as Orosa worked in Jolo, a predominantly Tausug area in the Sulu Archipelago. Orosa’s 1923 text, however, provides a very informative glimpse of intercultural encounter in Sulu.

The Samals, who are fond of dancing, are usually employed to perform at Sulu feasts. The dancing is done by men or women, seldom by both together, and each dancer performs separately. The dancing consists in taking a series of postures, the feet keeping time to the music. The body is swayed slowly, and the hands, with fingers extended, are bent stiffly from the wrist... (83)

This text clearly indicates that the Samal (a.k.a. Sama) indeed shares the same cultural space with the Tausug. Like many other cultural artifacts or expressions, the Tausug pangalay and the Sama igal, as well as the pamansak of the Sama Siasi—although remaining distinct and autonomous—would most probably have influenced each other.

Seven years after her earlier publication, Aquino (1973)4 drops pamansak and igal in her anthology of Philippine folk dances, retaining only the Tausug pangalay (76). This act of omission appears to have set in motion the marginalization of the two other dance traditions, which in the later works of other scholars would be subsumed under the label “pangalay.” For instance, Alejandro (1978)5 mentions that various versions of pangalay can be found among the “Badjao’s, Samals, and Tausug groups” (183). While referring to pangalay as the “festival dance of the Tausugs,” Orosa Goquingco (1980, 165) also states that it is performed by both the “Samals and Tausugs” (173). Intriguingly, she documents the opinion put forward by Ambassador Yusup Abu Bakar and Edward Kuder that “the Pangalay was invented by Albani” (173). She also says that the pangalay and the darling-darling (a.k.a. dalling-dalling) are “dances of relatively-recent origin” (173).

In a seminal work,6 Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa strengthens the position of pangalay vis-a-vis the other dance traditions of the region by presenting it as “the premier dance prototype since it embodies the postures and gestures basic to most of the traditional dances in Sulu and Tawi- Tawi” (1983, 14). And in an undated syllabus titled “The Pangalay Dance Style,” Fernando-Amilbangsa characterizes the tradition as follows:

The Pangalay, a dance style in the classical tradition, is the dominant indigenous dance form of the Tau Sug, Samal, Badjao, and Jama Mapun. This little-known dance style from the southern part of the country has the richest movement vocabulary of all ethnic dances in the Philippines. The intricate movements require strong technique, and demonstrate the same degree of artistry and sophistication parallel, if not superior, to other Asian dance forms. Pangalay is a “living” link to traditional dance cultures in the Asian region where sensitivity is the key to learning and gaining mastery of the many nuances of traditional dances.7

Fernando-Amilbangsa (1983)8 also equates Tausug pangalay and Sama igal as alternate dance terms that “connotes dance (n.) or a piece of dancing regardless of function or form” (13). Many scholars have echoed her opinion about the sameness of igal and pangalay (Villaruz and Obusan 1992, 13–14; Lucero 1994a, 80; Lucero 1994b, 278–79) and about its dominant position or general use as a label across ethnic groups in the Sulu Archipelago (Abubakar and Cheng 1994, 391; Matilac 1994, 477; Alejandro and Santos-Chua 2002, 95; Peterson 2003, 44).

However, I do not agree with this perspective on the grounds that similarity is not synonymous with sameness. Indeed, other works on Philippine dance have underscored the importance of differentiating along ethnolinguistic lines and treating the Tausug pangalay as a separate tradition from the other dances in the Sulu and Tawi-Tawi archipelagoes (Santamaria 2012; Hafzan Zannie Hamza 2013; Jacinto 2015). Hamza (2013), for instance, espouses a view that negotiates the lines between sameness and difference.

While igal dance forms feature unique Bajau Laut characteristics, the nuances, however, show strong relationships with the neighboring Tausug form, known as the Pangalay. Similarities are most evident in the curling and flexing of fingers and palms, while differences can only be traced by those who understand the aesthetics of the dance... Similarities in these dance styles reflect the subtle cultural nuances of the Sulu Sea, and, in turn, indicate uniquely shared regional identities of traditional art forms.9

Other scholarly works on dance therefore travels a full circle and returns to Aquino’s highly nuanced relational distinction in describing different dance forms linked by shared characteristics.


  1. Aquino, Francisca Reyes. [Attributed]. 1966. Philippine Folk Dances and Songs. Manila: Bureau of Public Schools.

  2. Orosa, Sixto P. 1970. The Sulu Archipelago and Its People. Manila: New Mercury Print Press.

  3. Goquingco, Leonor Orosa. 1980. The Dances of the Emerald Isles. Quezon City: Ben- Lor Publishers. pp. 164–65.

  4. Aquino, Francisca Reyes. 1973. Philippine Folk Dances, Volume V. Manila: Bureau of Public Schools.

  5. Alejandro, Reynaldo G. 1978. Philippine Dance: Mainstream and Crosscurrents. Quezon City: Vera-Reyes, Inc.

  6. The publication of Amilbanga’s tome, Pangalay, in 1983 is considered a trailblazing work on the little-known performance traditions from a highly problematic part of the Republic of the Philippines. Even before the publication of her seminal book, National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco (1980) already acknowledges her contribution to the field, saying that “No study of the dances of Morolandia, and specifically of those of the Sulu Archipelago, would be complete without mention of the findings of Ligaya Fernando- Amilbangsa...” (117)

  7. Amilbangsa, Ligaya Fernando. n.d. The Pangalay Dance Style [Dance Syllabus]. Marikina City: Self-published.

  8. Amilbangsa, Ligaya Fernando. 1983. Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Artistic. Makati City: Filipinas Foundation, Inc.

  9. Hafzan Zannie Hamza. 2013. “Igal: The Traditional Performing Arts of the Bajau Laut in Semporna, Sabah.” Master’s Thesis, University of Malaya. p. 54.


Cover photo from NCCA Official.