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Nearly every Tibetan can sing and dance. They sing anytime for any event and dance at festivals, weddings, gatherings and during their spare time. The Tibetan nationality, or Bo as it calls itself, has a population of about 3.87 million, scattered in Tibet, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, which are known for their highlands, grasslands, thick forests and abundant natural resources. The areas inhabited by Tibetans boats a great diversity of folk songs and dances.

From historical writings we can see that more than a thousand years ago folk religious and sorcerers' dances were very popular in Tibet. They influenced the Wild Bull Dance, Yak Dance, Deer Dance, Crane Dance, Peacock Dance, Sorcerers' Dance, Drum Dance and other kinds of folk dances that have been handed down to this day.

Here we will introduce you some of the early dances popular among Tibetans:

GUOXIE DANCE

Guoxie (meaning “village” in Tibetan) is a group dance popular in rural areas of Tibet. The participants dance hand in hand and sing in rotation. The dance is often seen in villages, on open squares and threshing grounds. At festivals people dance and sing from sunset to sunrise. They mark the rhythm by stamping their feet.

Guoxie is performed to a 2/4 beat with the stress on the first beat. The steps are steady and vigorous, characterized by a marked tempo and a strong sense of people’s labour and life. The underlying characteristic of the dance is the expression of collective enthusiasm and joy. This dance is found everywhere in Tibet, but the most renowned version is found in the Shannan area. The form is largely as follows:

At festivals men and women stand hand in hand in two lines around a big vat of highland-barley wine placed on open ground. The two groups first sing and walk from left to right in a circle. When they finish singing, the xieben, or organizer of the dance, leads in shouting, “Xiu, xiu, xiu, xiu,” and starts the dance with rhythmic steps. This rhythmic shouting is called xiege in Tibetan, or “beginning of the song,” which is followed closely by quick-tempo singing and dancing. The two lines of men and women compete in their dancing. After repeated dancing the xieben leads in shouting, “Xiu, xiu, xiu, xiu,” or sings alone while the others dance to his tempo. This part of the dance is called xiexiu, or finale.

Xiege thus is both the beginning of the song and the initial dance steps to shouts of “Xiu, xiu, xiu, xiu,” or “Ci, ci, ci, ci.” The dancers’ shouts are very similar to “One, two, three-- everybody dance!” As many people participate in Guoxie and it usually does not have any instrumental accompaniment, it is hard to attain uniform dance movements. Xiege is designed to arouse people’s enthusiasm and get them moving together. Xiexiu, the finale, is usually the climax of the dance. Xiege sparks the participants’ enthusiasm in their concluding climatic dance steps. A solo popular in the Shannan area goes, “Ah, jia, hei! Nowhere else on earth can match our beautiful homeland. No house is as comfortable as my house. No other young people are as happy as we are, and no other people are as lucky as we are.” The people dance during the solo, then shout in chorus, “Xiu, xiu, xiu, xiu,” to conclude the dance.

DUIXIE DANCE

Duixie contains two meanings. Dui means “upper” or “highland.” Therefore it refers to the round dance popular in ruraI areas of Ngamring, Dingri, Lhaze and Sagya counties on the upper reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River. It also refers to the tap dance performed by urban people after the folk dance in dui areas was introduced into Lhasa.

In the mid-seventeenth century the fifth Dalai, in an effort to reinforce his rule by combining government with religion, stipulated that Sholdon Festival be held in Lhasa from the end of June to early July every year. (Sholdon Festival later developed into the Tibetan drama festival.) On this day groups from all parts of Tibet converged on Lhasa to perform. A group from a dui area in Tibet performed a lively and vigorous tap dance that was immediately loved and improved on by people in Lhasa. The major improvement was to start on the second beat, followed by a change of step after every three steps. The dancers tap vigorously to music played on flutes, Chinese plucked stringed instruments, plucked six-stringed instruments, dulcimers and clusters of small bells. The music for accompaniment of Duixie has been formalized into a slow opening, short interlude, allegro and finale. Thus Duixie has gradually been transformed from a recreational dance to stage exhibition.

The tap dance that has evolved from the Duixie of rural areas is a complex combination of a change of movement after every three steps; five, seven and nine quick steps; mark-time steps with turns. The taps are rhythmic. First popular on the streets and in the open squares and linkas in Lhasa, this dance is also known as Lhasa Tap Dance.

GUOZHUANG DANCE

Guozhuang, a term often used, is homophonic with Guoxie in Tibetan and means singing and dancing in a circle. There are farmers’ and herdsmen’s guozhuang. Farmers’ guozhuang is popular in Qamdo in eastern Tibet, while herdsmen’s guozhuang is popular in the vast pasture land of Damxung, Heihe and Sog Xian.

Farmers’ guozhuang consists of two parts: singing and quick singing and dancing. The tempo is subdivided into slow, medium and quick. At the beginning of a performance men and women stand in two separate circles and sing in rotation while swaying and stamping their feet. They conclude their singing by shouting “Ya!” Then their steps quicken and come to a stop at an exuberant allegro. The allegro music is often a condensed version of the slow music.

The movements of guozhuang are agile and vigorous. The loose, wide trousers of the male dancers look like the feathered legs of eagles, and the men’s movements are imitative of creatures, especially eagles, such as an eagle spreading its wings, hopping, and soaring. The emphasis is on the postures and expression of emotion. The verses for one song read: “Oh, snow-capped mountains, make way for us. We fly with wings spread. Oh, rivers, make way for us. We stride with broad steps.” These old verses display the Tibetans’ brave and bold character.

The form of herdsmen’s guozhuang is largely the same as farmers’ guozhuang, but there is a big difference in the movement. In herdsmen’s guozhuang, for instance, the dancers jump while waving their hands in front of the chest and step forward, then turn left or right, hands and feet move in the same direction. The sonorous singing produces a magnificent effect.

XIE DANCE

Xie is a dance to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument. In the hinterland of Tibet it is called Kangxie (dances from Kang). In Batang and Qamdo it is called Ye, a variation of the sound of xie.

It is popular in Batang, Qamdo, Gyangze and areas of Qinghai. At festivals and on outings in the linkas in Batang and Qamdo, men and women dance face to face in two lines. They are usually directed by one person at the head of their formation, playing a stringed instrument made of ox horn. They dance in a circle or randomly. Sometimes they resemble a winding dragon. They sing to each other to express their feelings. Along with the trill in their singing, there is a kind of “trill” in their dance, most of which mimes the movements of the peacock. The graceful movements flow naturally and are characterized by broad, slow steps and pointing of the foot toward the ground. The dancers wave their sleeves while turning, creating a fascinating scene of flying sleeves. Peacock Drinking Water is an exhibition dance designed by Tibetans to express their wishes for good fortune and happiness,

ZHUOXIE DANCE

Zhuoxie, which means song and dance, is popular in Lhasa and rural Shannan areas as a group dance with oval waist drums.

Zhuoxie has always been performed at ceremonies of blessing and for entertaining guests. The villages of Nedong, Zalang, Qonggya and Sagya in Shannan region all have waist drum teams of their own. Most of them perform the drum dance. Even numbers of people participate in the dance for the convenience of changing patterns. The leader of the dance, zhuoben, wearing sheepskin and a mask, appears first. Holding tata (coloured arrows), he stands in the centre to conduct the dance and drumbeat. Sometimes he shouts out the drumbeat, “One beat, three beats, five beats, seven beats, nine beats,” to coordinate the drumming and dancing.

Zhuoxie consists mainly of three parts. The first part is entirely dance. Its slow tempo gradually quickens. The people dance to the drumbeat in changing patterns to express their feelings. Sometimes a special display of skill in beating the drums is given.The drum teams in Nedong County are known for their vigorous beating while shaking their heads. The second part is singing. Holding tall feathers, the troupe, in a semicircle facing the audience, sing songs to express their wishes for a happy occasion. In the third part the performers beat the drums while singing. They conclude the performance with a bow to the audience.

Zhuoxie does not use any special musical instruments for accompaniment except for small bells fastened to the performers’ knees. One version of Zhuoxie depicts the construction of Sagya Monastery: clearing the ground, driving piles, transporting bricks and building with rocks, praying to god for protection, a lion playing with a tiger, setting the pillars and roof beams in place, fixing doors and windows, clearing the dust, welcoming the king to ascend the throne, imitating a walking crow, weaving carpets, and inauguration of the structure to express best wishes to the people.

QAMO DANCE

The religious dance Qamo in Tibet came into being during the confrontation of Buddhism and the local Bon-po religion (the Black Sect). In the process of localizing Buddhism, Padmasambhava from Kashmir created a kind of religious dance to subdue the “evil spirits” in monasteries by giving the local Tibetan dances Buddhist interpretations. This religious dance gradually became popular as Qamo, a sorcerer’s dance.

According to Chronicles of Tibetan Kings, various kinds of animal-mime dances, divine-instrument dances, drum dances and flower-offering ceremonial dances appeared during the reign of Songzan Gambo in the seventh century. Instead of absorbing the local Tibetan dances completely, Padmasambhava selected only some animal-mime dances and divine instrument dances that suited Buddhism and combined them with the ceremonial mask dance of the Bon-po religion. These dances and Ox Dance, Deer God Dance and Dharma Protector Dance, preserved to this day, trace back to the same origin.

Before the modern Sorcerer’s Dance begins formally, a traditional livestock sacrificial ceremony is held. However, livestock is no longer killed since it goes against the doctrines of Buddhism. Mostly drawings are substituted. When the ceremony begins, suona horns are blown and drums and cymbals beaten, A group of performers playing demons walk slowly round as a prelude to the dance. This is followed by the Demons’ Dance, Skeleton Dance, Ox God Dance, Deer Dance, Guardian Dance and Dharma Protector Dance. Between dances Lamas put on wrestling and acrobatic bouts to entertain the spectators. Sometimes they perform stories from Buddhist scripture that bear messages to do good things in other people’s interest, such as “Sacrifice Life to Save the Tiger” and “Dance of the Man of Longevity,” who is believed to be generous in bestowing longevity and good fortune.

The last act is for the divine soldiers to drive away the evil spirits. With guns on their shoulders, the performers send Duoma (the leading demon, made of butter and tsampa) to the wilderness and burn him to drive away evil for the year and pray for good fortune in the coming year.