Bhutanese Royal Academy of Perfoming Arts
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts opened in 1967, but its traditions date back to 1954, to provide formal training for masked dancers and to preserve the country’s folk dancing heritage. It is located in the northern part of Thimphu City, the nation’s capital.
The mask dances, known as cham, are said to bring blessings to onlookers. The origins of the mask dances date back to the 8th century. In some cases dancers will wrap their heads with cloth strips to protect them from the weight of the masks.
Dances are grouped in three broad categories: dramatic dances that push morality, dances that purify and protect places from harmful spirits, and dances that celebrate victories by Buddhism and Guru Rinpoche, a man who came to Bhutan in the 8th century and who some consider the Second Buddha.
Bhutanese people see dance as an extension of their religious and social lives because the movement reflects their deep devotion, compassion, tolerance, and harmonious living.
The dancers, who wear flowing, colorful costumes, take on the roles of wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes, demons, the dead and animals. Their movements tell stories about history and fantasy.
Women can join in secular dances. Many are influenced by the part of the country where the dance originated such Tibet in the north or Nepal in the south.
The dances are accompanied by the music of cymbals, drums, large and small horns, conches and bells.
Sometimes the choreography includes masked clowns, atsaras, who mimic the religious dancers. They are the only ones who are allowed to mock religion in a society that treats religious things with respect.