Cultural concert madness is upon us. All classes from PP to VII have been busy preparing three items for next Saturday night's concert: one Boedar (traditional folk songs and dances originally derived from Tibetan court songs), one rigsar (contemporary Bhutanese music that blends modern instruments like synthesisers and drum machines with more traditional instruments) and one ‘special item’. My Class VIIA class begged me to teach them some Western dance moves for their ‘special item’ and because they’re so sweet and charming I foolishly agreed – instantly picturing in my mind a polka-dotted fantasty of perfectly coordinated lindy-hop swing dancing wowing the audience and opening the students up to the wonderful world of swing dancing.
(By the way, this is a perfect example of why people with over-active imaginations are destined for a few epic failures when they go into teaching.)
So yesterday morning – a Saturday morning I might remind you – all the teachers and students filed down to the Multi Purpose Hall (MPH for short), students carrying their chairs from class, for a full dress rehearsal of all 29 items to be performed in next Saturday’s concert.
|PP students carrying their chairs down to the MP Hall|
The performances were cute, they were charming, they were skillful , spirited and fun. Almost all students here are capable dancers, coordinating steps, singing and performance with relative ease – it’s obvious they’ve been practicing since PP – and not just in school either.
Our first weekend in Chamgang fell on Bhutanese New Year – Losar – and some girls from Class VIII invited us to come down to the archery field to watch them dance for the archers and audience. A group of about ten local women and girls danced and sang traditional songs – as the archers came and bought them sweets and mango juice and joined in the dancing. Just one example of how dancing is very much a part of traditional life here, much more so than it ever was a part of my life growing up in lovely leafy suburban Canberra!
|Lopen Thinley's Class VI Boys: Dancers Extraordinaire|
One of the stand out dances of the concert practice was from Lopen Thinley’s Class VI boys who for their special item danced an old Bhutanese folk dance traditionally performed by the King’s body guards. The boys in Class VI are a naughty, good natured and easily distracted bunch – but they were absolutely loving the physicality, pageantry and machismo of the ancient call to arms. With wreaths of leaves wrapped around their heads as camouflage, long patangs (traditional machetes) strapped to their belts and drums and cymbals in their hands to ward away evil spirits they spun and clapped and banged and sang - a beautiful joyous celebration of a proud and ancient cultural tradition being revived through the exuberance of youth.
I found this performance particularly pleasing considering that many of these boys are boarders and I often bust them sneaking out of the hostel to come and watch WWF wrestling in the tshongkhang (shop-cum-bar) outside our house. (Warning: righteous rant imminent…) It’s slightly disconcerting that many of the worst aspects of Western and Asian culture (in my humble opinion) are often far too seductive for young Bhutanese here – just as they are at home. And while a few hours a month of watching The Rock and The Undertaken triple pile-drive their opposition into the siding boards of a wrestling ring might very well amount to harmless fun – mindless viewing on a nightly basis is only going to erode any child’s intelligence and cultural sensitivity in my old-fashioned opinion.
So it was a true joy, on many levels, to see Lopen Thinley’s boys strutting their stuff – and a credit to his dedication to Bhutanese culture and Dzongkha language preservation. It was also in stark relief to the next performance – my Class VII A students doing their version of a Lindy Hop Charleston to Sy Oliver’s Yes Indeed. They hadn’t really mastered the steps and were used to having me lead – so were completely lost up on stage. I had also been reluctant to teach them to partner dance – thinking that they would be too shy or awkward to dance with members of the opposite sex – so their stand-alone, badly executed triple-steps looked painfully simple compared to elaborate partner dancing they were doing in their other dances.
So next week – I’ll be enforcing partner dancing at all levels and being a total lindy hop Nazi every evening after school so that they’re ready for next Saturday. Bring it on, I say!