The dance of ‘girls playing drums’

Each of the traditional folk, dances which performs on festive days in the northern region, features different tunes and dance languages, but they all show the people's wishes for a peaceful new year to come.

The clourful festival of Trieu Khuc village lasts from the 9th to the 12th day of the first lunar month (or 20 to 23 February this year) with the procession of Phung Hung emperor (the leader of a third uprising against the domination of the Northern Tang Dynasty (602–905) in Vietnamese history) procession, is mean to invite the saint to dwell at the great communal house, congratule him on the coronation and thank him for giving the villagers a warm, full and peaceful life.

The dance called "Con di danh bong" or "girls playing drum" is now restored and become an important element of Trieu Khuc village festival. Photo: Le Bich

According to the elders in the village, in the past, Trieu Khuc was the place where Phung Hung trained his troops to fight the enemy, General Dao Chinh Binh of Tang China. This was not Phung Hung's hometown but after winning the throne, the Trieu Khuc villagers worship Phung Hung as a Saint.

The funniest parts of the Trieu Khuc festival are five dances performed by the villagers, including dragon dance, lion dance, dance with coint money, gong dance and flag dance. The two dances of dragon and lion are always performed together in many Vietnamese festivals until nowaday.

However, it’s a limited chance for audiences to admire the coint money dancing and drum dancing (also known as the ‘girls playing drums’ as they are facing with lost. Currently, these dances are being restored and being an important position in the village festivals.

Flirting ‘girls’ in the drum dance 

In the dance, boys are disguised as girls in beautiful makeup, wearing headscarves, colorful dresses, and playing with small drums hanging infront of their chests. Photo: Le Bich

Different from other folk dances, often performed by women, the dance of ‘girls playing drums’ is performed by boys. Young boys are disguised as girls, wearing headscarves, colorful dresses, beautiful makeup and playing with small drums hanging infront of their chests, dancing passionately with soft, flexible movements following the music of drum beats.

According to folk artist Trieu Dinh Hong from Trieu Khuc village, who has been preserving the dance for almost 50 years, “Girls always dance better than men that it was very pleasant to see them dance, but due to the old conception of disdaining women that they were not allowed to enter the place of worship, thus, men had to act as women to dance for entertaining Saints. Selected men for being dancers in ‘girls playing drums’ dance must be unmarried boys, handsome and were talent in dancing."

The dances of "dance with coint money" and "girls playing drums" are usually performed in the yard in front of the communal house. While offerings were made to the saints inside the temple, dances were performed outside to ‘entertain’ the gods. 

A folk dancer from Trieu Khuc village. Photo: Le Bich 

The drummer has a wide-handed drumming action, high foot-lift and gracefully moving like a woman while always keeping smiles in the face. Especially, the action of drummers leaning back against each other, swaying the body bears the meaning of 'enjoying happiness' between man and woman (in bed).

Folk artists have created the dance basing on their daily activities such as working on the rice field, slapping water or playing games. The boys transformed into girls, acted like flirting girls to bring laughters to the villagers. From a normal entertaining dance, it turned to be an important joyceful dance that usually was performed on the occasion of celebrating a battle or a sacrifice in temples and communal houses.

According to experts, the dance of ‘girls playing drums’ in Trieu Khuc village festival are not superstitious colors but "sacred" and related to the philosophy of the ‘five elements in the earth’. During the dance, dancers are spining around the drum team sitting in a square in the middle. According to old people’s perception, the image was symbolized the sun and the earth.

The revival of the unique folk dance

The dance is dating back for hundreds of years in Trieu Khuc village (Thanh Xuan district, Hanoi). Photo: Le Bich

The dance of "girls playing drums" has been performed by villagers in Trieu Khuc for hundreds of years. Experiencing the war and time, this folklore heritage has been gradually eroded and has only been officially taught by Mr. Hong to his descendants since 1985.

Since 2010, the dance classes have been opened to any people who wants to learn in the village. And then, in 2015, the Hanoi Folk Arts Association officially recognized the ‘girls playing drums’ dance club, which is headed by Mr. Hong, and also sponsor and expertise to the club.

Up to now, there are 26 male youngsters in the village who have became folk dancers who perform the dance in every occasion of festival.

The dance is not only a traditional dance of Trieu Khuc village but also a special dance of almost every village surround the ancient Thang Long citadel. Photo: Le Bich 

According to music researcher Nguyen Quang Long, the dance of ‘girls playing drums’ is not only available in Trieu Khuc village, but also a special dance of almost every village surround the ancient Thang Long citadel.

Recently, some ancient villages in Hanoi have rehabilitated the dance, including Hao Nam village. The village festival is held on 12th and 13th day in the second months of the lunar calendar.

On the nights of the Spring Festival, people were happy to watch four men pretending to be women wearing raven beaks, skirts, old lady styled shirt, and in heavy make up to perform in the communal house’s yard. On the main day of the festival, the dancers once again dance during the village’s Saint procession.

According to Mr. Nguyen Van Trang (Head of communal relics management board, Hao Nam temple), Hao Nam village used to have a very good dance team that still performed very well some tens of years ago.

According to the reseachers, the act of swaying body of the dancers bear the meaning of 'enjoying happiness' between man and woman (in bed). Photo: Le Bich

Among them was a folk artist named Son, who wishes to teach the dance to his children and grandchildren, but these young men are afraid to study because they have to dress like women. "Mr. Son had already passed away, villagers now have to invite Mr. Can from The Le Village to teach us the dance," he said.

Musician Thao Giang - Deputy Director of Vietnam Center for the Development of Folk Music is the person who directly chooses to organize the Hao Nam’s dance ‘girls playing drums’ group. Meanwhile, artist Trong Hap, former lecturer of the Army College of Dance, is the choreographer.

After months of hard practicing at Hao Nam communal House, the ‘girls playing drums’ dance group of Hao Nam village has now ready to perform. It’s now a key performance at the folk music stage entitled “36 streets of Ha Thanh”, which was performed in front of Dong Xuan market on every Saturday evening, aiming at introducing to Hanoi resident and tourists about a 'specialty' of culture of the thousands of years old ancient Thang Long citadel area.

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