Saturday, January 09, 2010

[Fon] Lao American Dance

In our ongoing discussion of Lao American dance it can be helpful to understand what we might see and expect in a contemporary dance exhibition. As mentioned in a previous post, there are over 60 possible dances we might see and observe in Laos. We see considerably fewer here performed in the US, but there's still significant diversity within what we are seeing.

Depending on the time available, at the moment you can typically expect around 11 dances in a standard two hour period, and the current tendency is to also include a number of instrumental performances and songs during the evening. 
 Dances are running approximately 5 to 6 minutes in many cases, although there are shorter and longer performances observed across the US. Increasingly, we're seeing efforts to add hip hop dance into the programs, although the focus continues to prefer traditional regional dances. 

Notable Lao dances in the US that can be spotted occasionally include:

The blessing dance, usually reserved for special occasions including weddings and the Lao New Year as a welcome. This dance has gone be several different names, depending on the state it is being performed in.

The Fon Souliya. The typical story associated with it is the story of young girls who went to see a sunset and were so delighted by it they began to dance.

The Lam Salavanh. A regional dance from the Southern Lao province of Salavanh.

Fon dok champa. A dance performed in honor of the national flower of Laos, the dok champa. Typically performed in America to a rendition of Champa Muang Lao.

The monkey and mermaid dance. Drawn from a side story of the Lao Ramayana, Phralak Phralam, this dance is an interpretation of the tale of a monkey warrior seeking the love of a mermaid.
The Fon kinnaly. The Kinnaly dance is inspired by the stories of the graceful Kinnaly, a celestial race of half-human, half-birds known for their elegant dancing and art. This is one of the more rare dances to observe in the US due to the expense of the costumes and the significant training required to perform this dance. There is a particular variation, the Fon Manola that references the classic legend of Manola and Sithon.

I'm still locating descriptions for all of the dances mentioned in this post, but notable dances also include the Fon Dok Bouatong, Fon Poakanoy, Fon Pongelang, Fon Kubtoom Luang Prabang, Fon Xaokaw and the Fon Leeng. The Royal Lao Classical Dancers of Tennessee are particularly generous in sharing these dances with the public during their performances in May.

Fon Yuk or Fon Nyak references the classic Lao ogres of legend, who may be closely tied to the Rakshasas of South Asian folklore.  The Fon Nang Keo is also another dance that might be seen in particular communities.

 Hopefully, over time, we'll see more examples of these documented and posted online.

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