This page is dedicated to H.H. Dalai Lama who has supported and encouraged the preservation of the Tibetan Performing Arts in exile.
Dancing was an important part of many ceremonies, for example at Losar, the Tibetan New Year , at weddings and religious festivals, and also during the circumambulation of the fields in the autumn. The participants usually danced in a circle, men on one side and women on the other, and could number in the hundreds. In the villages there was usually a song leader, known as the shey pön, the 'song master'; this was an unofficial title for someone who was recognized as an experienced and competent singer. The circle formation of the dance symbolized peace and boundedness, and the accompanying songs were often prayers and praises to local gods and Buddhas. Songs sometimes took the form of a kind of cosmological journey through the landscape – beginning with a description of the heavens and descending slowly from the mountain peaks to the hills to the forests and finally reaching the ocean. A single song could last for an hour and people often danced for hours at a time.
The styles of the dances varied from region to region – even with variations from village to village – The dances of Central Tibet, were characterized by their quick footwork - steps, stamps, small kicks and with a rather immobile torso, while the dances of Kham in Eastern Tibet were known for their graceful arm-movements and high leg-lifts. In Kham, troupes of wandering minstrels known as ral-pa, performed a mixture of acrobatics, songs and dances, preceded by a homage to Milarepa, a great yogi of Tibet. These dances, accompanied by handled drums, cymbals and bells, were more performative in nature than the other folk dance styles, requiring much skill and practice.