The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie. ~Agnes de Mille
For centuries, dance has played an important role in cultures around the world. Dance is used to celebrate, to worship and to mourn. Dance provides the opportunity to pass on traditions and stories in many cultures that lacked the tools to record them on paper. And for some societies, dance provides a means for social change and increased tolerance.
Because of its abundance around the globe, bamboo often plays an integral role in these dance rituals.
The island of Yap in Micronesia is a country still very tied into their traditions from their arts to their continued use of stone money. Referred to as “Chura”, dance is Yap’s most highly developed art form, often telling the story of canoes, conquest or religious events. During the annual Festival of Yap (traditionally held during the first week of March), men and women gather to participate in numerous dance competitions. This festival has been held for hundreds of years on this tiny island to celebrate what is most important to the Yapanese: dance, history, competition and togetherness. The Yapese dance is so specific in its movement that the elders are deemed the only true judges of the four main types of dance (sitting, standing, Marching and Bamboo). They are given the best seats in the house, so to speak, to view the dancers and are often merciless in their criticism. And so important is dance to the Yapenese that there is a specific adverb, “Towrug”, used to describe it, meaning “doing what is appropriate for you in all action, with dignity.”
Below is an example of the Yapese Bamboo Dance.
The Bamboo dance is named for the use of bamboo to make a rhythmic percussion sound when smacked against each other or on the ground. Each dancer carries a stick of bamboo roughly 4 feet long in this dance full of jumps and precise coordination among dancers. This is a particular favorite of the young people on the island as it resembles playful fighting when performers shake their bodies as if they want to break their bones.
In India, their Bamboo Stick Dance also originated from an important cultural celebration. This dance, also referred to as “dandiya,” was first performed as the featured dance of Navaratri, the longest Hindu festival of the year held over nine days to praise the Lord Rama and Goddess Durga. The dance itself is representative of the mock-fight between the Goddess and the Mahishasura. Men and women, dancing in pairs, hold decorated bamboo sticks (dandiyas) which have tiny bells at the end to create a soft jingling sound when the sticks are struck together. The bamboo sticks themselves represent the sword of Durga and the dancers move in rhythm with the beat of the bamboo sticks as they swirl and swordplay with their partners.
Below is a performance of the Indian Bamboo Stick Dance.
What is most interesting about the bamboo stick dance in India is that it serves as a tool to restructure the social order – during the dandiya dance, there is no separation of dancers based on caste or religion. Everyone, regardless of class or religious beliefs, comes out into the festival to celebrate their shared heritage.
Throughout the world, stories are told and people celebrate through their use of dance. And in these instances, it is the strong bamboo stick keeping beat to the rhythm of their culture.
For more on the role of bamboo in countries around the world, visit Green Earth New’s section on Bamboo’s Worldwide Impact.