06 June 2011

Traditional Tibetan Dance

On May 26, I went to a dance performance at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). The show started about 30 minutes after the time scheduled. There were six traditional Tibetan dances and one modern song. A live band of 3-4 musicians seated on the left side of the stage played a flute, a stringed instrument, and some percussion. The dances represented different regions of Tibet, some from the cold nomadic regions in the east and some from the warmer cities in the south. All of the costumes were made for a cold climate, though--men wore fur-lined hats and boots and several layers of wrapped fabric that could serve either as decoration or as additional insulation. Women wore simple chupa dresses, with colorful aprons to signify their marital status, and intricate headdresses. Both women and men wore long-sleeved tunics over their clothes, one arm through a sleeve and the other sleeve hanging down the back. Both genders also had golden ornaments hanging from their belts. The costumes were colorful and nearly identical, with small variations in pattern or ornament. Each dance had a different costume, representing the region of the dance's origin, but the costumes were all quite similar (and, as His Holiness notes in his autobiography My Land and My People, similar to traditional Persian dress).

Because of so many layers of clothing, the dancing was limited. The men kicked, stomped, knelt, and jumped, sometimes while playing stringed instruments, but mainly walked about and swayed in time to the music. The women, whose movement was even more restricted, primarily performed graceful hand motions in addition to the walking and swaying. The dances were simple: all dancers did the same motion at the same time, though groups of men and women usually differed. Choreographed movements into new positions were the primary changes in the dances.

The one solo was a distinctly modern song written by a contemporary Tibetan composer. The song is a poignant plea for the freedom of Tibet. It is quite popular in McLeod--it was the final number in the Miss Tibet 2011 finale. The modern instrumentation combined with Tibetan wooden flutes results in a blend of ancient and modern, western and eastern, that represents McLeod Ganj quite well. Performing traditional dances is an important part of preserving Tibetan heritage, which is the main concern of many Tibetans, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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