Welcome to my website about Tibetan ritual dance for my final project in Columbia University’s Intro to Tibetan Civilization class! On this main page you will find background information. At the top you will see tabs to other pages that delve into more specific topics! Have fun exploring! Please note that the reason videos are linked rather than embedded is that I would need to have paying subscription with eduBlog in order to embed videos.
Background on Tibetan Ritual Dance
The purpose of Tibetan ritual dance is to allow laymen to gain from watching public representation of Buddhist practices. Ritual dances are meant to display and preserve the Buddhist faith so that the practice of the faith is reinforced in the viewers.
Many forms of dance are regarded as a branch of other rituals rather than rituals in and of themselves. In the case of Buddhist Tantric practice, the goal is to bring movements visualized in tantric practice into the realm of reality through the physicality of one’s being, making the act of dancing, either in rehearsal of performance, a deeply spiritual experience for the dancer (Reynolds, Gyatso, Hellen, & Martin 130) . Due to the extremely religious and specific nature of Tibetan religious dances, they are usually only performed by an elite set of individuals who have gone through a rigorous training process. Each monastery has a unique training process, but in all cases, an accomplished dancer and monk is in charge of training and leading the dancers. In recent years, since the occupation of Tibet by the PRC and the subsequent exile of numerous Tibetans, the number of performances of sacred dances appears to have fallen dramatically. (Hoetzlein 314). Because of the fragmentation that has resulted from exile, many monasteries have been unable to keep the tradition alive. In addition, exiles must spend large amounts of their time adapting to the new country they are in, and economically supporting their families, which restricts the amount of time available for numerous religious and cultural activities, including dance.
Tibetan religious dance allegedly has its roots in the Bon tradition, according to historian Nanci Hoetzlein. Guru Padmasambhava seems to have been inspired by this dance culture and passed on a refined description of his understanding of how various deities movements should be portrayed to his students, which eventually transferred to the Nyingma school of thought. The next major supporter of Tibetan religious dance with the Fifth Dalai Lama. Based on his famous profound visions, he institutionalized and codified numerous religious dance forms, the most famous being Cham, which was written about in his text Cham Yig (“Tibetan Dance”). Due to this support from both major teachers and leaders, Tibetan religious dance became an integral part of monastic life in all schools of Buddhism. It is interesting to note that in most cases, nuns have been excluded from performing monastic dances, which is an interesting contrast to western dance forms, where men are notoriously underrepresented.
Now that you have the historical background regarding Tibetan ritual dance it is time to explore the rest of the website. Please note that, even though the most famous Tibetan ritual dance is Cham, due to it’s relative fame, I decided to only talk about one specific type of Cham, and spend the rest of my research time on less known forms of ritual Tibetan dance. However, for the sake of the reader, videos for various types of Cham have been provided under the “Dep Cham” section.
*Please note: Photos not found in one of these sources have been hyperlinked to their source. Clicking on one of these photos will lead you to the page where the image was found.
“Black Hat Dance.” Namgyal Tantric College. N.p., 2008. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
“Cham, Tibetan Monastic Dance.” Tibetan Material History. Columbia University WikiScholars, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
“Duixie.” China Tibet Information Center. People’s Republic of China, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
Fromaget, Alain. “Lhamo.” Chö-Yang (1991): 321-25. Print.
Hoetzlein, Nanci A. “Sacred Ritual Dance: (The Gu Tor Tradition at Namgyel Monastery).” Chö-Yang (1991): 314-20. Print.
Reynolds, Valrae, Janet Gyatso, Amy Heller, and Dan Martin. From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art from the Newark Museum. Munich: Prestel, 1999. Print.
“Tibetan Dance.” Tibetan Dance, Culture, and Performance. Amazing Tibet, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.