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History of the Carinosa Dance

A fan is a common prop in the cariñosa dance.
fan image by windzepher from Fotolia.com

The cariñosa is a much-loved folk dance in the Philippines. Spanish in origin, it is regarded as a national dance by scholars, and the characteristic shy behavior of the female dancer is said to represent the mannerisms of Philippina women.


The cariñosa is a popular folk dance that was introduced to the country by the Spaniards when they arrived in the 16th century. It belongs to the Maria Clara suite of Philippine folk dances. These are so named in honour of Maria Clara, who was the main character in Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere, ('Don’t Touch Me’), about the colonisation of the Philippines by the Spanish. In it, Maria Clara is portrayed as a noble and loyal woman, who after the publication of the novel in the 19th century became the female symbol of virtue for Philippina women.


It is believed that Panay Island, located in the Visayan Islands group was the original home of the cariñosa. The Spanish first arrived on the island in 1569. The dance soon spread around the Philippines, giving rise to different versions in different regions, such as in Bicol, where both dancers carry handkerchiefs.


It was traditional for a Spanish ‘Maria Clara’ costume to be worn, which consisted of a long dress and a long-sleeved short embroidered dress made from pineapple fibers. Now more traditional Philippine dress is usual. Men wear white shirts and colored trousers, while the women wear native dresses.

The music is Spanish-influenced, with three-quarter rhythms that resemble a bolero or a waltz in both speed and style. Ensemble orchestras comprising banjos, mandolins, strings and drums are typical. The orchestras were once mainly composed of men, however more and more women are starting to take part.

The dance

To dance the cariñosa, a man and a woman dance together, taking slow steps around the room, similar to those of a waltz. The female holds a fan or handkerchief, which she coyly hides behind. The dance itself is intended as a courtship dance, and is of a flirtatious nature. Cariñosa literally means "she that is loving" as the verb ending indicates it refers to a woman.


During the Marcos regime, the cariñosa was named the national dance of the Philippines. To this day school text books still claim this; however, the Philippine government maintains it is another dance called "tinikling," which is a native dance. Today, the cariñosa is performed at social gatherings and festivities.

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