As a process of retrieving information on the ways of dancing, dance research occupies a limited sector in Philippine scholarship. By the ephemeral nature of dance, this scholarship is still to be fully oriented to understand and cope with the art and its practice. More developed methods of documentation have fairly been new, and predominantly, research still depends on verbal descriptions and pictures than on advanced forms of movement notation, filming and computer technology.
For the most part, early records on Philippine dance had been written by foreigners; among the most notable ones are Antonio Pigafetta (Ferdinand Magellan's historian), Fr. Francisco Colin and Jean Mallat. True documentation of dance only came in the second quarter of the 20th century, by Francisca Reyes Aquino in the late '20s when she worked on her thesis and further went out to the field with Ramon Tolentino and Antonio Buenaventura as a team under the auspices of University of the Philippines president, Jorge Bocobo. These also resulted in the formation of the UP Folk Song and Dance Club that toured the provinces, and the publication of Philippine Folk Dances and Games (1935) with Petrona Ramos and Philippine National Dances (1946). Aquino further extended her research and publication through the years, the most outstanding of which is the six-volume Philippine Folk Dances (1953 - 1979). She was assisted by a number of other researchers like Emerita Basilio in Luzon and Jose Balcena in the Visayas.
Emulating her example, others followed with their own regional researchers: like Libertad V. Fajardo with three volumes on Visayan dances (1961 - 1975); Juan C. Miel on Samar dances (1973); Jovita Sison Friese on Pangasinan dances (1980); Teresita Pascua Ines on Ilocano dances; Petronila Suarez on Iloilo dances; Lourdes Buena and Leon Tuy on Bicol songs and dances; Gloria Cabahug on Cebuano dances; and a coordinated research on Antique dances led by Abelardo Villavert.
In the '50s, the Bayanihan Folk Arts Center, preceded by the Philippine Women's University Filipiniana Folk Music and Dance Committee in the '30s, was organized with some provincial branches.
Respective heads for music, dance and designs were Lucresia Kasilag, Lucresia Reyes Urtula and Isabel Santos. The center also developed into the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company. In its midst came dancer-researcher Ramon A. Obusan who now heads his own Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, and research and archival center. Other independent researchers of note are Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa on Tausug, Samal and Badjao dances (Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Artistic Expressions, 1983), and Elena Rivera Mirano on Batangas music and dances, particularly on the subli (Subli, Isang Sayaw sa Apat na Tinig / One Dance in Four Voices, 1989).
Obusan has perhaps the largest collection of video-films on Philippine dances, with several of them used in the Cultural Center of the Philippines-produced Tuklas Sining series on the arts. Two of the four video-documentations on dance directed by Obusan and scripted by Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz have won national and international awards.
The use of movement has largely been confined to Aquino's verbal and directional system, arranged into figures and fitted into counts and phrases. Larry Gabao teaches Labanotation at the Philippine Normal University and Villaruz teaches the Benesh system at the University of the Philippines. Use of these more developed systems have not been widely accepted for lack of tutors and passivity among dance teachers. Two organizations in folk dance that seek to safeguard dance traditions are the Philippine Folk Dance Society and the Francisca Reyes Aquino Memorial Foundation.
In theatrical dance, there are too few researchers. Oral history has been collected by the dance program at the UP College of Music and a few more by Marcelino Foronda. Among the early writers on Philippine theater are Vicente Barrantes (1889), Juan Atayde (1892) and Wenceslao Retana (1909), and comprehensively surveyed up to 1946 by Cristina Laconico Buenaventura (1994). In the 70's and '80s, the Ballet Federation of the Philippines published its newsletter Sayaw Silanganan (edited by Villaruz) and Ballet Philippines its Dance Philippines (edited by Nestor Jardin). Villaruz and Jardin have contributed to several foreign publications on the subject of Philippine dance. Leonor Orosa Goquingco has contributed to Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo and Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and Reynaldo Alejandro to International Dance Encyclopedia./p>
Books on Philippine dance are few, among them:
- Alejandro's Philippine Dance (1978)
- Leonor Orosa Goquingco's Dances of the Emerald Isles (1980)
- Doreen Fernandez and Rudy Vidad's In Performance (1981) on Ballet Philippines
- Bayanihan (1987)
- Doreen Yu's Ballet Philippines: 20 Years of Dance (1991)
- A Sound of Rambours: An ASEAN Tapestry (1991)
- fifth volume of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994)
General surveys and some specific dances are described in monographs and lengthy articles by Villaruz, such as in:
- Monograph on ASEAN Traditional Dance : Philippines (1997) which comes with a video-film for dance instruction
- The Dance of the ASEAN (1998)
- Contemporary Philippine Culture : Selected Papers on the Arts and Education (1998)
- "The Philippine Music-Theater" in Compendium of the Humanities of the Philippines : Musical Arts (1998)
- special performing arts issue of Ani (1998) from the Cultural Center of the Philippines
Conference papers for World Dance Alliance-Asia Pacific (formerly Asia Pacific Dance Alliance) presented in Manila in 1991 and 1998 are substantial. The annual dance calendar of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts provides some pictorial and production or biographical notes. Likewise, critical writing on dance performances has been written through the years by Norli Dharam (later called Anthony Morli), Rosalinda L. Orosa, Orosa Goquingco, Villaruz and Marge Enriquez.
Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz is a former English instructor at the University of the Philippines who danced with Modern Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines), Hariraya Ballet Company, involving himself much later with Dance Theater Philippines as its balletmaster, choreographer and then artistic director. His recent choreographic works include: "Ritual Bonds", "Oriental Fantasy", "Ay Kalisud" (1990); and "Spiritual Canticle: An Eclogue-Operatorio" (1991). He is the Artistic Director of the University of the Philippines Dance Company.