Myanmar Dance & Folklore

Myanmar Dance & Folklore


Without music, song and dance life is not complete. Although the performing arts have been influenced by the arts and culture of India, China, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Burma has preserved and developed its own culture including traditional dance. Performed as classic, pure entertainment and folklore show, the best dancing show is probably a blend between classic and folklore.

Ahak, a rather traditional or folklore performance can be traced back to the first Century A.D. records show that as early as A.D.802 a “Pyu” music and dance troupe including 35 artists and 22 musical instruments was sent on a goodwill mission to China to present a classic performance.

After the Pyu period, Bagan became the focus of cultural activities and Indian, Sri Lankan, China, Pyu, Mon and indigenous nationals cultures celebrated classic dance during the Bagan period from 1057 to 1287.

Stone inscriptions of this period mention 21 musical instruments and 64 kinds of musicians and dancers plus the word “Ka-Chay-Tha-Bin” which means Music and Dance Festival. King Nga Si Shin Kyawswa of Pinya dynasty composed “Kar-Chins” or martial songs for a shield dance in 1336. In 1714, Minister Padetharaja wrote a play entitled “Manikhet Zat” which initiated the form of “Zat-Kyi” or traditional grand drama. He also composed thirty seven “Nat” songs. Marionette theatre and “Myay-Waing” also emerged at about this time.


This was performed on a circular plot of ground

on the same level as the audience. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin conquered Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam, today Thailand and brought back many craftsman and artists including court dancing girls who introduced and taught Thai movement forms. Thus styles have been enriched by absorbing techniques and styles from neighbors. Interest in all forms of arts and crafts declined during British rule. To revive and promote the performing arts after the country regained independence, the government opened the State School of Music and Drama in Yangon in 1954 and the State School of Fine Arts and Music at Mandalay, in 1955.

Dance History  –  Dance Pictures – Folklore Dance

The present basic classic dance course known as “Ka-byar-lut,” is performed with drum beats as the only accompaniment. A stone figure in the Shwezigon pagoda from the Bagan period portrays the “Ka-byar-lut” dance style, suggesting that this basic has been in existence for a very long time.

Myanmar dancing
Myanmar dancing at a festival

There are a number of popular performances

for state guests, visitors and the general public at festivals or at restaurants.

One is the “Bon-she” or long drum dance featuring two long drums, a pair of cymbals, a bamboo clapper and a “Hne,” a wind instrument similar to an oboe. The “Ozi” or potdrum dance includes a drummer who may carry and play from one or many drums, two bamboo clappers, a cymbals player, an oboe player and an “Ozi” dancer usually garbed as a prince or a royal page boy. The “Dobat,” or two-faced drum performance is done by two drummers, one bamboo clapper, a cymbalist, an oboist and a dancer. This performance is always performed in village festivities with very little music. Folk festivals also feature “Toenaya” dance. The Toenaya is a mythical figure made up of jute, coarse paper and strips of bamboo. The dancer do the framework of the gaily painted and decorated Toenaya figure and performs the dance together with the “Dobat” or “Ozi” music.

The “Mingalar bar” dance,

a greeting dance and traditional performance bestowing blessings upon the audience, is a very graceful dance on the “Nat” votaress. The “Si-mi-kwet or oil lamp dance, features dancers carrying lighted oil lamps on their palms paying homage and reverence to the Buddha. The suppleness and skill enables her to move hands, feet, body and head without upsetting the lamp or extinguishing the flames during the performance.

Other popular are the “Tabin-Taing,”traditional solo; “Zawgyi,” or alchemist; “Anyeint,” a solo, artistic performed together with story telling, humor, jokes and shows; “Ahpyodaw,” maid of honour performance; “Wun,” minister; “Ayoke,” or marionette, where the actors perform imitating the movements of puppets; the “Nay-yar-dawkhin” or royal page boy; the “Sidaw,” or royal drum and others. Traditional performances can be enjoyed in several restaurants and hotels -like Kandawgyi Palae Hotel- also as a dinner show.

The orchestra, called a “Saing”

in which percussion instruments dominate, provides the musical accompaniment for the traditional performance. The orchestra consists of the “Patt Waing,” a circle of 21 drums in the centre, the “Kyay Maing,” a circle of gongs, a “Patt-Ma,” single large drum, “Lingwin,” cymbals, a “Hne,” wind instrument similar to an oboe, a ” Palwe,” bamboo flute, “Wah-Let-Khoke,” bamboo clappers and a “Pattalar,” bamboo xylophone. Sometimes there may also be a “Saung-Gauk,” Myanmar harp, to complete the ensemble.