Bienvenida Tac-an has been dancing the tinikling since 2008. As one of the founding members of the Gotozon Balsa Performers’ Association, she performs with colleagues for tourists at Bohol’s Loboc River Cruise.

One of the founding members of the Gotozon Balsa Performers’ Association, Bienvenida Tac-an. Photos courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The cruise is one of the highlights of any trip to the province, where guests enjoy a sumptuous lunch while listening to a serenade of local songs. As the motorized boat gently sails through the river, it passes lush nipa and coconut trees, and other tropical flora and fauna.

Another key attraction is the local communities who entertain guests through dance and songs on floating docks, locally known as the balsa. Tac-an and the association uphold the traditions of folk dances.

Tinikling itself is a sight to behold, with some saying that the dance represents the resilience of Filipino people.

The dance mimics rice-preying birds, which must walk over grass and avoid bamboo traps set by farmers in fields. In the performance, clappers hold two to four bamboo poles, which they knock together rhythmically. Dancers follow the tempo of the poles as they gracefully hop and skip over it to avoid getting their ankles caught. Apart from the tap-tap-tapping of the bamboo poles, this mesmerizing dance is accompanied by the melody of the rondalla, a stringed instrument.

The Gotozon Balsa Performers.

Ripples of joy

It’s this resilience that Tac-an must channel outside of work as she faces the devastating effects of the pandemic, including losing her job.

Her work as a dancer already had its challenges. She doesn’t have a salary or a regular fee, and instead relied on donations and tips from tourists. The work is also grueling, and a typical day can run up to seven hours on the job. It can extend if there are more guests in the floating restaurant, and it takes one hour for them to prepare.

Despite the lack of salary and the long hours, she is happy with her work because she sends ripples of joy to the guests who watch them perform.

“The pandemic affected me and our group because the tourism industry stopped. We lost our source of income,” Tac-an says. The impact of the pandemic hit her twice as hard, since she is supporting two kids in college

The balsa in Loboc River where Gotozon Balsa Performers dance for tourists.

“I am struggling because my family members have no work and no income. And we know that we have daily expenses, especially food and utility bills. There is also debt to pay,” Tac-an adds.

Luckily, she has a monthly income as a barangay kagawad [councilor] but according to her, “my salary is not enough for our expenses.” To cope, the group used funds allotted for the maintenance of their balsa [floating dock] to share rice with each other. Their community also gave relief goods.

The beautiful Loboc River in Bohol. Photo by Tom Jauncey.

Amid the pandemic

Bohol is one of the most visited destinations in the Central Visayas region. In 2019 alone, the province drew 1.58 million tourists, a 5.6 percent increase from the arrivals in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, 30,000 go in and out of the island-province per day. This March, the number is around 1,000 per month.

The result was destructive, with many tourist destinations closing down. The Bohol economy lost Php 10 billion. Tac-an is one of the 200,000 workers in the province who lost their source of income.

To help, the local government distributed cash assistance under the Department of Social and Welfare’s (DSWD) social amelioration program. As early as May 2020, 17 towns in Bohol have finished doling out cash assistance to families. This May, the Department of Tourism (DOT) partnered with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to release funds for displaced tourism-related workers.

Tac-an may still be unemployed now but there is hope on the horizon. Bohol is reopening to tourists. This June, at least 20,000 residents have been fully vaccinated. Soon, she will be able to overcome her challenges with the same grace, passion, and determination she shows while skipping over the tap-tap-tapping of the bamboo poles.