About Susan

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Going Tribal

In costume for the Wa Fire Dance

It’s not too often that I get to let my hair down, literally, and it’s even more rare that I get to toss it about without reserve. I’ve never been in a mosh pit or engaged in much head-banging. Maybe I’m missing out, but in dancing this unique piece I don’t particularly feel any loss. 

The Wa people live in the south of China, in the Yunnan province, bordering Burma and Thailand. They also live in those countries as well, but since some technically live within China’s borders I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn their dance and culture as a part of my Chinese ethnic dance studies. 

People around the world have tended to respect, fear, and revere the elements as part of cultural tradition. The Wa have their fire worship. The dance I’ve been working on and have performed is a tribute to the nurturing and fearsome powers of fire. It is absolutely the most non-classical and raw tribal movement I’ve ever formally learned, and I love it. 

My hair was to the prop, and the method of head-thrashing was very precise. I admit it felt pretty good once I got the hang of it, as long as I was fully warmed up. Whiplash is not fun.

Having fun after the show with fellow dancer Jenny Fong!
My teacher suggested I flat-iron my hair to make myself look more like the traditional image of a Wa girl, i.e. with long and very incredibly straight hair. My hair is poofy, wavy, and generally given to its own ideas of what shape it will take any particular day. From experience I know that flat-ironing would tame my locks down for about five minutes before rebelling, so I knew that would be a losing battle. (My compromise? Lots of pins.) Besides, I thought: Hey, I’m the person dancing this piece so I might as well be me but in as Wa a way as possible, through my movements. 

While the overall effect of the dance is to be wild and free, I discovered that it takes even more control and discipline to create movements that have form and character; otherwise it becomes nothing more than a messy romp.

That said, even my teacher observed that my body took to this tribal style and choreography more quickly than anything else I’ve ever learned. My mother did always say to me that I was a little wild thing.
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