Introduction to Performing Arts, Popular Songs & Dances in Bhutan

Performing Arts

The word “performing arts” is ambiguous as most of the performances are of religious nature and do not imply professional troupes.

The tradition of religious dances and plays performed by monks or male villagers at different times of the year in villages is very much alive as well as folk songs and dances performed by both women and men, either during the religious festivals or at any festive occasions.

Popular Songs and Dances

Popular songs and dances are performed during lay celebrations, at friends’ gatherings or between religious dances.

Men and women sing together or separately, and most of the time, songs are accompanied by dances where both men and women take part, either forming a line or a circle. The choreography is usually quite simple some of the steps can be tricky like sidesteps and tap dance – like steps. Graceful arm and hand gestures compliment the steps. The body remains usually upright.

The language of the songs is traditionally Choeke, which derives from Classical Tibetan, using a lot of metaphors with reference to religious and natural contexts. The tunes follow the musical pentatonic scale.

Traditionally there are two styles of folk singing: the Zhungdra and Boedra. The first one, which means “the State/ Central melody”, is very solemn. It has no rhythm and uses the CDFGA tones. The second one meaning “the melody of the courtiers” has a fast rhythm and use CDEGA and CDFGA tones.

There is now a new genre of song called rigsar popularized on radio and TV, it is in the Dzongkha language and has more westernized or Bollywood inspired melodies.

Devotional songs (Gurma) were composed by great religious figures such as Milarepa, A Tibetan mystic and poet (1040-1123) or more recently, Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987). They are sung in Classical Tibetan, in seven or eight syllable verses. They are not accompanied by dances as they are a means of religious expression and can be sung by religious people as well as lay people of both sexes.

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