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Folk Dance

Among the Chinese dances, the folk dance is the greatest in number, the most extensive and the deepest into life, and the closest to everyone's daily life.

Folk dance covers a wide area, including most of the dances involved in various ethnic and folk Customs and activities, such as production, the occasions to mark the climate and other natural phenomena of the seasons, marriage and funerals, beliefs and religions. This kind of dance originated from the embryonic period of the dance art and still exists today, forming the so-called folk dance. of course, today folk dances appear more in festivals for entertainment, and their original meaning is either weakened or completely lost. But the root of these dances are all deeply connected with folk activities that used to be popular in various ethnic groups.

Dance has been a loyal companion of mankind on his way toward higher civilizations. Through the long course of history, dance accompanied mankind from birth to lying peacefully in the earth. At every step of life, there is always the faithful companion, dance. Folk dances enliven the life course and escorts every member of the society from birth to life's end.

The folk dances that connect to the climate and other natural phenomena of the seasons are the most common. At present, most ethnic groups perform their traditional dances during the Spring Festival (or New Year of each nationality), which is now an art gala of China. But in the past, there were many festivals related to the seasons. Almost every festival must have music and dance among the varied performances.

For instance, historical records show that in Beijing during the Ming and Qing dynasties, "there are fairs (such as hanging a flag, playing the hayfork, yangko dance, dragon and lion dance, flower drum, etc.) in all four seasons, and every month." (See Notes of the Old Capital) The Notes on the Capital by Chance also records that "in the capital, the people visit the Baita Temple after the first day of the first lunar month. They then go to Xiyuan to watch the Lama dance and wrestling, and to swing at the Zhantan Temple. At the Lantern Festival, there are lantern markets at Qianmen and Liulichang. People go to the Zhengyang Gate to touch its round nails. They watch firecrackers at the Five-Dragon Pavilion, dance yangko (a folk dance to celebrate the harvest), enjoy the Baolao dance, and buy yuanxiao (sweet dumplings made with glutinous rice powder)... In February and March people go to the Gaoliang (Sorghum)

Bridge to admire the early green grass, to the Wanliu Garden to listen to the larks and play the konghou (a stringed instrument), or offer incense at the Zhuozhou Temple. In April, the plum flowers bloom in the Western Hills; a fair sends away the spring... In May, people tour the Gold Fish Pond, offer incense at Zhongding and the Yaowang (God of Medicines) Temple. In June, there is a ceremony at the Xuanwu Gate, the lotus flowers are the best in the West Lake. On the night of the Zhongyuan Festival (or Ghost Festival) in July, every street is set with firecrackers, light fragrant incense, and lotus leaf lanterns. In the Mid-Autumn Festival of August, people walk under the moonlight and buy the traditional toy of a rabbit king. September is the time for climbing tall mountains, looking for chrysanthemum in the flower market, and watching the soldiers from the royal Eight Banners to drill at the foot of the city wall. Women put little golden lamps on their hairpins... Dances for the gods will start in November In December, people offer flowers to the Buddhas and play the Taiping (Peace) Drum".

Historically, temple fairs, offering incense and greeting the Buddhas, were joined by folk dance troupes (called Xianghui, Huahui or Huanghui). Among the most famous was the temple fair at the Niangniang (Goddess) Temple of Miaofeng Mountain. Dance troupes from hundreds of miles away would gather to present their best arts. It's not an exaggeration to say "Fairs were held in every season and every month". (Fig.1 -32)

Apart from these national festivals, each ethnic group also has its own folk Customs related to the climate and seasons, which are also accompanied by music and dance. A good example is the Bai nationality in Yunnan. According to a survey of the Bai Nationality Folk Dance (December 1994, by the Yunnan Ethnic Groups Press), one of the major festivals of the Bai nationality is the "Raosanling" (April 22 to 24, this and all following dates are of the lunar calendar), which includes dances and antiphonal singing contests like the Bawangbian (Rattle Stick Dance), Bajiaogu (Octagonal Drum), and Shuangfeiyan (Double Flying Swallows). It is said that "tens of thousands of people join the dance". Another major festival for the Bai nationality is the "Sanyuejie Folk Festival" (March 15 to 21), including horse racing, antiphonal singing and big-scale folk dance. The festival of "Tianjiale" (Happy Farmer) is also called "Zaiyangmen" (Gate of Planting Seedlings), and its date is flexible with the time of planting rice seedlings. This festival includes "Bainiao Chaowang" (All Birds Pay Tribute to the Phoenix), "Bawangbian" (Rattle Stick Dance), and "Yuqiaogengdu" (risherman, Woodman, Farmer and Scholar).

The festival of "Shibao Mountain Singing Fair" (July 25 to August 1 ) features antiphonal singing, sanxian (a three-stringed instrument), Bawangbian, Buddhist dance, sorcery dance, and Taoist dance. The "Huobajie" (Torch Festival) (June 25) features dragon boat contest, torch performance, Bawangbian and other folk dances. The "Haidenghui" (Sea Lamp Fair) (July 22 to 23) sets the Dragon King lamp, play the Bawangbian, and stage the dragon and lion dances. The "Benzhujie" is also called "Benzhuhui" (Festival of the God) (in January, March, July or August, as according to different regions). It has the god dance, sorcery dance, Bawangbian, singing songs on the God Ben. The multi-dance tradition in the Bai nationality is not a single example, but represents a general phenomenon. Some festivals of ethnic groups are directly named by its chief dance. The "Baishou" (Swaying Arms) Festival of the Tujia nationality is chiefly celebrated with the "Baishou Dance". Thus the traditional festivals of ethnic groups are often grand fairs of ethnic music and dances.(Fig.1-33)

Another major part of the folk dance is composed of dances related to food production and life. An ancient philosopher said that "food and reproduction are basic human natures". The fundamental requirements of human existence and development are the production of materials and ourselves. The two hence became the most common Subjects in the dances of various ethnic groups.

Dances related to production can be found in every nationality. In the agricultural regions, the dances often represent the farming life and express hopes for good weather and ample harvest. Such dances can be found in the Shehuo, yangko, Caicha (Picking Tea Leaves) of the Han nationality, the Moguai (Frog) Dance of the Zhuang nationality, and the Niuwang (Cow King) Dance of the Buyi nationality. In the mountainous regions, the people have more dances on paying tribute to the God of Mountain, and there are also many dances imitating various animals. Such dances are like the "Xiangbaga" (Dance to offer Sacrifices to the God of Hunting) of the Nu nationality, the "jishenhui" (Fair to Pay Tribute to the God of Mountain) of the oroqen nationality, and the Bear Dance of the Ewenki nationality. The fishermen who make a living on the sea have dances relating to the ocean species and the gods of the sea (one most famous goddess is the Mazu worshipped along the southeastern coast). Two Such dances are the "Wujiuli" (Nine Carp Dance) in Fujian Province, and "Jihaiwu" (Dance to Pay Tribute to the Sea) in Hainan Province.

The people who live in the dense forests of the Changbai Mountains of jilin Province celebrate every March 16 (of the lunar calendar) as the "Muba Festival". It's also known as the "Laobatou Festival" or the "God of Mountain Festival". "Muba" is a term the local lumbermen call themselves. "Laobatou" was the predecessor of the local lumbermen. According to the legends passed down through generations of lumbermen, the Laobatou was named Sun Liang. In the early Qing Dynasty, people of the Han nationality were forbidden to enter the forests of Northeast China. Through numerous guards and difficulties, Sun Liang finally entered the forests and started a new life for himself and other new-comers. The Annals of the Linjiang County (a hand-written copy stored in the Cultural bureau of the county) actually contains a poem written by Sun Liang. "My home was in Laiyang and my name was Sun. I crossed seas and rivers to search for ginseng. For three days I only found one Lalagu (an insect) to eat, and what a sad life I am living! lf anyone needs my help, trace the ancient river up into the mountains. Anyone lost in the mountains will get my guidance." It is said that Sun Liang had silver-white hair and a long beard. His look was kind, just like his heart. He often helped others and after he died, his spirit would hold a "Suoba stick" to guide the poor people to find the "Bangchui" (ginseng). He protected the mountain residents and guided the lost to their way back... The local lumbermen regarded him as a hero of the forest and the god of the Changbai forests. The "Muba Festival" originated from this old belief. During this festival, the lumbermen gather to pay tribute to Sun Liang. After the rituals, they start the vigorous "Muba Dance", which reflects the production customs of the forests, and also pays tribute to the god of their trade in the hope of safe production and prosperous trade.

The love and marriage of the young are another theme of folk dances. In the early societies of each ethnic groups, including the ancient Han nationality before the strict moral system took control of their daily life, music and dance were the main media between a girl and a young man's courtship, engagement and marriage. There are many festivals especially set for the young to get to know each other and to fall in love. The most popular Such festivals are the "Sanyuesan" (March 3), "Tiaoyue" (Moon Dance), "Tiaoyue" (Music Dance), "Caihuashan" (Picking Flowers at the Mountains) and "Tiaolingtou', (Dance at the Mountain Range). These festivals include music and dance. There are both dances for the festivals and festivals for the dances.

In the folk dances about daily life, the funeral dance also gets a considerable share of recognition. Like the marriage dance, the funeral dance is also varied and diversified. An example is the Va nationality in Yunnan Province. The funeral dance of this nationality includes:

The "Zhugan (Bamboo Post) Dance", usually held at the funeral of an elderly person who commanded high regard and influence in the village. The dancers beat bamboo posts with sticks, everyone in the village can join the dance. The local old people often say, "Although the person is dead, the spirit is not. It cannot Iive without music and dance in the other world. Thus people will sing and dance to send the person away happily". It is just this optimistic and wise view of life and death that has created the many funeral dances of the Va nationality.

The "Saozhou (Broom) Dance", with three to four men and women holding brooms to clean the house of the dead while dancing, is said to clear the evils and drive away demons. This dance is both for the peaceful rest of the diseased and the happy life of the living.

The "Wuya (Crow) Dance", in which dancers imitate flying crows to show that the people are surrounding the dead and crying like crows, expressing their grief.

The "Yaolan (Cradle) Dance" is very special in form. The dancers hang a cotton blanket or a piece of cloth on four ropes. They put a baby in this cradle. Rows of people stand on both sides of the baby, pushing the cradle gently while dancing and singing, "Swing, swing and swing, swing Him (the God of Death or the demon) Out, swing Him out. Swing, swing and swing, swing Him out far, far away". The tranquil dance is similar to a mother singing her baby to sleep. The people believe that the cradle of a baby can drive away the God of Death. This expresses a belief in the powerful life of the new-borns.

The "Guancai (Coffin) Dance", where three to four friends and dancing companions of the dead strike the coffin with wooden sticks continuously while dancing. They won't stop until the dead is rested in the coffin. The dance is vigorous and profound, full of the grief of the living for their beloved relative and friend. (The dances of the Va nationality mentioned above are from Folk Dances of the Va Natianality in Ximeng, September 1989, by the International Culture Publishing Co..) The funeral dances of different contents and forms represent different views and emotions of people to death. Some are deeply sad, some take it easy or simply let it be, some despise or hate death, some are offering comforts and good wishes to the dead under the belief that everything in the world has a spirit.

Folk dances usually contain elements of religion and belief, as well as rituals and ceremonies. This is due to their direct lineage from primitive sorcery dance. At a certain development level of sorcery dance, its original function of ritual and ceremony became polarized. One part entered palaces to form the ritual system (as represented with the Yayue dance). The other part dived into the broad folk life and through its intercourse with life; it became the folk dance open to the entire society The multi-facet feelings and beliefs expressed in perceptual terms formed the colorful mosaic of the folk dance.

The dancing art has accompanied people through time and space. It shares the destiny of nations and the human tragedies and comedies. "Music and dance of the peaceful and prosperous times are tranquil and happy. They express the joy of living under the wise rulers. The music and dance of chaotic times are full of complaints; they are the hatred to dark politics. The music and dance of a conquered land are sad and grieving; they express the people's shame and hardships" (See The Book of Music: origin of Music). The music and dance Culture of China is thus fully immersed in the long historical river of folk Culture with its profound and broad content from life and diversified perceptual forms.

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