LIFE / CULTURE
Sherpa family works to preserve traditional dance in Xizang region
Published: May 12, 2022 05:43 PM
Although her granddaughter is only 7 months old, Namkha, 57, likes dancing in front of her, showing her some moves of the traditional Sherpa dance.

"My oldest student is 40-plus years old, and the youngest is my granddaughter," said the Sherpa with a smile, expecting that her granddaughter will pass down the traditional dance someday just like herself.

Living in Zhentang township, Dinggye county, Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, Namkha is an inheritor of the Zhentang Sherpa dance, a national intangible cultural heritage.

Besieged by primitive forests at the foot of Mount Qomolangma, known as Mount Everest in the West, deep in the Himalayas, the township with an average altitude of 2,000 meters is home to more than 2,600 Sherpa people.

Standing together in a circle or semi-circle, dancers, mostly women, sing and dance with interchanged rhythms. They wear traditional Sherpa costumes while dancing, including a silver waist belt, a cap decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, and accessories like gold earrings and a necklace consisting of silver rings.

Born into a farming family, Namkha has enjoyed dancing since childhood. She started to learn the Sherpa dance from senior villagers at the age of 15, becoming the youngest among the dancers. In her early 20s, Namkha often danced till midnight after a day's toil in the field.

Her parents said dancing was a waste of time and affected farmwork.

"After dancing late at night, I dared not return home for fear of waking up my parents and being scolded. So I once slept in the cowshed," said Namkha. When she was 25, she became the leading dancer and has performed at wedding ceremonies, festivals and galas of various levels in Xizang.

Namkha became a regional political advisor and headed to Lhasa to attend the regional annual two sessions for the first time in early 2007. She trekked in snow for two days to arrive at the nearest concrete road before a car picked her up and took her to Lhasa.

She then proposed developing roads for her hometown at the two sessions. Other proposals she submitted during her five-year term were about forest protection, as well as the Sherpa cultural heritage preservation.

Now, a concrete road has ended the isolation of the township, enabling Namkha and other Sherpas to reach the outside world more easily.

With the support of the government, each village of the township has established a performance group with an average of 16 members. 

Namkha now has 10 students and she plans to teach more.