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Jota Folk Dance in the Philippines: History and Origin

The jota is a dance in 3/4 tempo. Some varieties in the Philippines have 2/4 or 4/4 tempo sections. Its main triple tempo makes it similar to the waltz. The Philippine jotabal fuses the two.

The 16th-century courtship dance, canaries, is the “parent of jota” (Franks 1963, 63); the canaries, in turn, is the “slow form of the gigue” (Horst 1972, 109). The canaries used to be about death and only later about love and courtship (Buckman 1978, 87).

The jota itself is a couple dance performed to a song called cuartela, a four-line stanza of eight syllables to a line, and castanets. The Aragonese claim the dance; it is derived from the Andalusian fandango and was brought to Aragon by the exiled poet, Aben Jot. Its steps are “rapid hops, springs and athletic foot work” (Buckman 1978, 258), or more specifically, a jump into matalarana or a leap landing on one foot while pointing the other, followed by a pas de bourrie natural, a transitional travelling step (La Meri 1948, 163).

Video: Jota Aragoneza Castanets Folk Dance | Piddig Church, Ilocos Norte [Ilokano Cultural Dance Heritage]

There are perhaps hundreds of jotas in the Philippines, not all documented and some newly concocted for special occasions. Some, such as the jota ilocana from Ilocos Norte and the jota echagueña from Isabela, require the bride and groom to dance. In the mascota and pantomina, the dancing bridal couple is showered with coins. In Zambales, the jota cabangan, also called the jota sinansinan, is done on the eve of a wedding.

The la jota San Joaquin from Iloilo and the famous la jota moncadeña from the town of Moncada in Tarlac are done to the rhythm of bamboo castanets. The moncadeña is unique for a passage called patay or desmayo, where the man and woman seem to commiserate with and console each other in a funereal tempo. The jota bicolana uses a decorative fan, while the Ilocano jota zapatilla is done to the clatter of women’s footwear. As in the la jota yogad, the men wear chinelas or closed slippers. The cabangan mimes courtship, lovers whispering by windows and secretly touching each other’s feet under the table. The jota ha kalipay (jota of happiness) from Samar is done by just one couple or amenudo.

Jota Manila Folk Dance, Indak Pilipinas
PNU Kislap Sining Dance Troupe’s Jota Manila, Indak Pilipinas, CCP, Manila, 2017 (Aya Maglines)

Jotas are usually done by enough pairs to make up a quadrille, or even more. Regardless of the number of the couples, most of the figures involve meeting at the center, changing places, circling together as pairs, or a cadenza (small chain) as in the jota Rizal from Batangas. The Ibanag la jota filipina from Lal-lo, Cagayan, specifies its figures as pasakalye (meaning intermission), originally related to the chaconne (a preclassic dance in triple time), benya (bowing), poppo (clapping), and buelta (turning).

Clapping is done in the jotabal of Quezon, the la jota of Camarines Norte, the la jota concordiana of Iloilo, and the la jota filipina. Clapping is paralleled by panadyak (stamping) in the jota batangueña, the la jota and jota bicolana from Bicol, the a la jota and jota italiana from Laguna, the jota Pangasinan, the la jota samareña, the la jota from Negros Occidental, the jota Rizal, and the jotabal. In the jota gumaqueña, there is also clicking of heels.

Many of the jotas employ sway-balance, waltz, and waltz-turn steps. Korriti (mincing) is done in jota batangueña and jota paloana from Leyte. The characteristic Bicolano engaño step, which is similar to the sway-balance, is done in the jota rojana; the typically Visayan espunti step, or the shuffle on one foot while pointing the other, in the laota and the ese-ese step, also Visayan, and consisting of three steps and a stamp, in the la jota San Joaquin; the Ilocano mudansa or oblique steps with heel brushes in the la jota from Paoay, Ilocos Norte; and the piang-piang or sliding quarter turns in the jota ha kalipay. Some jotas employ the sarok or crossing feet and arms with body bent, cross-step, step-swing, step-brush (often with a hop), and a variety of turns. Some of these steps may lead to a do-si-do or changing places in a small square or back to back as in the jota Pangasinan, jota Rizal, and laota, or to a regular ballroom hold as in the jota cagayana and the jota Pangasinan. Some jotas employ other hand gestures besides clapping such as the kumintang or wrist circling and salok or scooping down with one hand.

Most jotas are named after their places of origin, such as the jota Navarra, originally from Spain and now called jota paloana in Leyte. Depending on the region, the women dancers are dressed in maria clara (native gown), the Ilocano costume mascota (tailless, floral-print skirt), or even patadyong (barrel skirt).

Video: La Jota Manila / Manileña Castanets or Castenetas Folk Dance Philippines | Maria Clara Dance

There are many other popular jota: the Tagalog manileña, caviteña and mindoreña; the jota de Olongapo from Zambales and the jota ecijana from Nueva Ecija; the Ilocos Norte vintarina, sarrateña, and laoagueña; and the sevillana from Iloilo.

The European triple tempo agreed so much with Filipinos that the jota spread throughout the country. The jota de Olongapo shows influences of the American square dance. The jota marks special occasions, such as fiestas, weddings, and baptisms. But they also have deeper implications when danced during the guling-guling, the mardi gras on the day before Ash Wednesday, or the tambora which is held on Christmas eve. 


  • Buckman, Peter. 1978. Let’s Dance—Social, Ballroom and Folk Dancing. New York and London: Paddington Press.
  • Fajardo, Libertad V. Visayan Folk Dances. 1961, 1964, 1975.Vols. I-III. Manila: Solidaridad.
  • Franks, A. H. 1963. Social Dance—A Short History. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Horst, Louis. 1937 (1972). Pre-Classic Dance Forms. New York: Dance Observer, 1937. Reprinted, New York: Dance Horizons, 1972.
  • La Meri. 1948. Spanish Dancing. New York: A. S. Barnes.
  • Miel, Juan C. 1979. Samar Folk Dances. Catbalogan: Government of Samar.
  • Reyes-Aquino, Francisca. 1953, 1966, 1975. Philippine Folk Dances. Vols. I-II (1953), III-IV (1960), V (1966), and VI (1975). Quezon City: Kayumanggi Press.
  • Reyes-Tolentino, Francisca. 1946 (1990). Philippine National Dances. New York: Silver Burdett, 1946. Reprinted, Quezon City: Kayumanggi Press, 1990.
  • Sison-Friese, Jovita. 1937, 1980. Philippine Folk Dances from Pangasinan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1937. Reprinted, New York: Vantage Press, 1980.
  • Suarez, Petronila S. 1971. A Collection of Heretofore Unpublished Folk Dances from the Province of Iloilo. Iloilo: Central Philippine University.
  • Wilson, G. B. L. 1974. A Dictionary of Ballet. New York: Theatre Arts Books.

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