Past Meets Present: How That Viral Gen Z Rendition Of Tinikling Came To Be

Modern beats meets traditional moves.

Filipino-American students at Georgia Tech gave a modern spin to the tinikling and proved that you can marry the past with the present.

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When it comes to the topics and discussions circulating among Gen Z, traditional Philippine folk dances aren’t what usually animates the DMs and Discord servers. When you scroll on TikTok, talking about Philippine culture isn’t as robust as it should be. So, how then do you build interest on traditional Philippine culture to a generation that is seemingly less interested in it as the years go by? For the members of the Filipino Student Association of the Georgia Institute of Technology, it was through doing the classic Philippine dance, the tinikling, and combining it with a Gen Z twist.


On April 16, a video of the association’s members doing the tinikling to Dolla Sign Slime by Lil Nas X was posted on Facebook. Tinikling, as we should all know by now, is a traditional dance that involves bamboo poles being rhythmically tapped on the ground and knocked together as dancers move between them. The tinikling is usually played with rondalla music during celebrations, programs, or fiestas. But in this case, the students hopped, jumped, and skipped to a track from Lil Nas X’s debut LP. The song added that modern spice while the dance moves and the bamboo poles made sure that it still adhered to the main characteristics of a tinikling.

The unique combination of song and dance propelled the video to virality, racking up millions of views, and even got the attention of Lil Nas X himself. The performance was done as part of the group’s Halo Halo Mixer. According to the group, this was there way to share Filipino culture to the campus, which they felt was lacking. Aside from the viral dance, Filipino food was also present as well as performances of other traditional Filipino folk dances. And yes, some of the flags were placed wrongly, something that the association is aware of and is looking to fix next time.


Ethan Ray, who is the first dancer in the video, was the man behind the choreography of it. NYLON Manila was able to chat with him about how he brought it all together. According to him, the idea came from the fact that he wanted to create something fun. “Creating the choreography came down to a lot of trial and error. First, I had to figure out which beats I wanted to accompany the music. That was very fun, but quite challenging to come up with. Next, I wanted to tie in multiple entertaining, yet cohesive steps and formations into the choreography to get the crowd excited. Overall, it came down to experimentation and having creative fun!”

Ethan is somewhat of a tinikling expert himself. He’s spent years, eight to be exact, doing the dance and has even taught it to people. “I have been taught in-depth about the history of the dance from it’s Spanish colonial era roots to its imitation of the Philippine Tikling bird. I have loved dancing and teaching the traditional version to audiences for years!”

Preparations for the performance began as early as January 2022. Weeks of practice and planning seemed to be worth it though, given the mostly positive response the Gen Z tinikling. What wasn’t shown on camera though was that the mixer had a lot more Filipino culture to showcase. “The event also featured a traditional tinikling, which I also choreographed, as well as the cariñosa and the pandanggo sa Ilaw. As a club, we wanted to not only respect our roots, but also innovate so that we can excite and get others interested in our culture as Filipinos.”


While some purists may see the Gen Z tinikling as inappropriate, the performance showed that you can appreciate culture while making it more accessible to a modern audience. On one hand, it helps people get in touch with their culture, and on the other, attract attention and interest through contemporary incorporations. The respect and essence is still there, but with a modern edge to make things more exciting. Be honest, wouldn’t you be at least curious to see a pandanggo sa ilaw performance to Fire by BTS? It even can get people interested in learning about Philippine culture and maybe learn the dance for themselves.

And for Ethan, seeing the video get that viral was all worth it. “I am so excited and grateful that the video has reached so many people from both the Philippines and other countries. In a way, it has bridged people from many cultures and can show people the joy, talent, and rich culture that the Philippines has to offer while making those back in the motherland proud!”

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