While researching other aspects of their culture I fell in love with the marionette like movements of Myanmar folk dancers. It’s so amazing because I was just planning a summer class that I will be teaching in my school next summer related to puppets and marionettes. It is truly magical when all one does comes together like that. Synchronicities in life. It makes me feel like I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Like the Beatles song ‘”‘All you need is Love’ phrase: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you are meant to be… it’s easy!”
But let me tell you Myanmar’s Folk dancing looks anything but easy!
The origins of Myanmar Dance are traced to the Pyu, Halin, and Mon cultures in the central and lower Irrawaddy regions from at least two centuries before the Christian era. According to archaeological evidence shows there is a lot of Indian influences in them. (1)
The earliest physical evidence of dance in Myanmar is excavated artifacts from site of the Pyu city of Srikshetra, founded between the A.D. 5th and 7th centuries and premier Pyu city by the 7th or 8th century. The artifacts include small bronze figures of a flute player, a drummer, a cymbal clapper, a dancer and a fifth figure that looks like a dwarf clown carrying a sack on its back. The heads of the figures are large but the bodies are of fine proportion. They are well dressed and bedecked with ornaments, and their postures are animated indicating they were engaged in performance. (2)
There were also influences from Thai and Khmer cultures during the many invasions and counter-invasions that occurred over the next two millennia.
Burmese dance was “influenced by the classical dance of Thailand or, to be more specific, Thai-Khmer dance; the Thais conquered Angkor in Cambodia in the 15th century and, it is believed, abducted court dancers and other artists. The Thais probably modified the style to their own tastes, and this, in turn, was partly adopted in Burma, when the Burmese imprisoned the Thai court with its dancers after the sack of the Thai capital, Ayutthaya, in 1767. (2)
In 1877 Burma became a British colony. The British abolished the Burmese monarchy and much of the court art with its splendid traditions of theater and dance disappeared entirely. Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theater Academy Helsinki wrote: “Despite the considerable damages of colonial rule to Burmese court traditions, Myanmar is still the home of many unique traditions of music, dance, and theater. Neighbouring India has had a considerable influence on dance and music, although this influence was probably absorbed over many centuries. (2)
“The present technique and style of dance in Myanmar, as long as the history of the art form may be, is, in fact, a result of the canonizing of the Burmese dance technique in the 1950s. The first governmental institutes in control of dance education in Burma were the State Schools of Music in Mandalay and Yangon, founded in 1953. In Burma, where the court tradition had had an abrupt end, it was felt that the classical dance technique should be recreated and standardized for the use of the curriculum of the newly founded State School. This task fell to the renowned performer Oba Thaung.
Ona Thaung started her dancing career since she was fourteen and had had twenty four years of experience. In 1953, the State School of Fine Arts was open in Mandalay and Oba Thaung served as first dance instructor for female students. There, she codified 125 steps of the traditional Burmese choreography, literally named Kabya Lut Aka (ကဗျာလွတ်အက; Dance without Verse), which consists of five dance courses intended as a five-year term of study. Each of the five courses is broken into 25 dance sequences comprising a total of 125 stages, with each stage of precisely ten minutes.
This is a photo of her and two of her dance movements:
Some of the surviving forms (including the belu, nat gadaw and zawgyi dances) honor folklore characters that are quintessentially Burmese, some of these from pre-Buddhist times. There is also a close relationship between the classical Burmese marionette and human dance art forms, with the former obviously imitating human dance, but also with human dance imitating the movements of the marionette.
This is one of the oldest surviving Burmese dances dating from around 2000 BCE. The Bilus are ancient ogres or demons. In literature, the Bilus are described as having shapeshifting powers—an ability to take on different physical appearances. There are 24 different classical demon forms, each with its own name and role in stories and plays.
This dance originates from the time of the Pyu kingdoms (5th-10th century). A small number of relatively crude musical instruments were used and the dance style is slow and sedate. The costumes of dancers, as depicted in wall paintings, were scanty and revealing. (1)
This video is of a girl dancing. You can hear the Burmese language as she is introduced.
Isn’t she amazing? So flexible and agile! Here is another video with her and a male dancer. You can see many videos in her channel! I believe her name is Su Myat Woon Yan.
Tai Bing Taing
‘Ta Bin Daing’ means ‘lone’ or ‘the only person’ in English. It is a traditional solo dance that portrays the daily chores of a royal princess. Even the mundane and monotonous daily activities become interesting as the princess carries out her duties with poise and dignity.
That looks so hard to do! Being on her knees for so long! She is so graceful!
Oil Lamp Dance
In the oil lamp dance (ဆီမီးကွက်အက), the traditional oil lamp offered to the Buddha is a lighted wick of cotton soaked in an oil-filled earthenware saucer is the centerpiece of the dance. A lighted candle now usually substitutes in its place. The Rakhine people of western Burma incorporate the oil lamp dance in many of their traditional dances, mostly devotional, to the Buddha.
The performer’s hands are always upturned (to retain the oil). Elders who remember performing with traditional lamps say that the secret is to not let the lamp drop while, at the same time, conveying particular expressions with various attitudes of the hands and legs. “It is almost an ordeal”, they added.
I could not find this listed as a traditional dance per say, but more as an influence. Yet I found these ‘comparing puppet- human dances’ and I thought they were incredible!
Puppet-style dances are still popular. Many dance numbers are based on the repertory of the marionette theater, such as the dances of the Magician, the Prince (mintha) and the Princess (minthamee). This partly explains the jerky movements of the dancers, who often perform sitting or crouching on the floor. The marionettes also influenced the way in which the dancers fall down, like a marionette whose strings are cut. The performer, however, always falls to the ground in a very graceful position with legs bent back and arms bent angularly. The facial expression is often a frozen, puppet-like smile, which appears to derive from the marionettes. Over the years, various puppet-style dances evolved, emphasising the precise imitation of the marionettes. (2)
How I would love to see this!!!
Well this brings me to the end of this post. I hope you enjoyed it! There are many, many more dances! If you are interested visit the source 2 listed below. It has great content about Myanmar’s beautiful dances.