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Ansai waist drum dance

Updated: 2013-01-29 17:54
Source:China Culture

The Ansai Waist Drum Dance 安塞腰鼓舞 takes its name from its birthplace, Ansai County in Northern Shaanxi Province of midwest China, in the middle of the Loess Plateau. Cut off from the surrounding areas either by the Yellow River or by cultural and ethnic factors, Ansai was regarded in the past as one of the most important fortresses in ancient times and was labeled the "gorge of the northern counties" and the "key of the north gate."

Nurtured in such a geographically isolated place, the Ansai Waist Drum has absorbed little, if any, outside cultural and artistic influence, and has therefore developed its own distinct features.

The Ansai Waist Drum dance is a unique, large-scale folk dance with a history of more than 2,000 years. Like a hurricane sweeping across the yellow earth, the dance displays the unsophisticated and wild character of peasant life on the Loess Plateau, revealing its unique artistic charm.

It is majestic and has boundless vigor, integrating dance, song, wushu, gymnastics, and ballad into a whole. The changeable procession is powerful and vigorous, bold and unrestrained. The atmosphere and rhythm are lively and enthusiastic.

In 1996, Ansai County was named 'the hometown of the Chinese waist drum'. Today, the Ansai Waist Drum dance has become a recreational activity for villagers to pray for good weather for crops and a happy life. In winter, the dance can help ward off the cold. It can also be found in many ceremonies of important events or festivals.

Origin As one story goes, in the Qin (221-206BC) and Han (206BC-220AD) dynasties when Ansai was a fort on the frontier, waist drums were delivered to every soldier stationed there along with weapons. They were used to sound alarms when enemies waged sudden attacks, convey military intelligence, boost morale on the battlefield, and celebrate victories. Used especially by the cavalry, the drums accompanied the rhythm of the horse's hooves as soldiers screamed battle cries as they advanced.

Later, the Ansai Waist Drum evolved into a form of folk dance, in which people prayed for godly blessings and good harvests.

Another view is that the drum dance originated from ancient ancestor worship rituals or other religious activities to greet gods or dispel evil spirits during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC). Gradually, Shaanxi villagers used the drum dance to pray for good weather, a successful harvest and a happy life.

Ways of Performing The Ansai Waist Drum dance is an extremely impressive spectacle that consists of vigorous dances and leaps accompanied by frenetic drumming. Wearing a white towel tied around their heads and dressed in lace suits, the dancers look brilliant and impressive. They brandish drumsticks decorated with red silk-ribbons and beat drums that are tied to their waists while dancing with joy.

The dance manifests vigorous movements to the accompaniment of rhythmic drumbeats. At the climax of the dance, dancers beat drums while jumping in the air and yelling "Hai hai!"

The number of drummers ranges from a few to several thousand. When celebrating festivals or the bumper harvest, performers often stage a large-scale Ansai Waist Drum dances that are usually performed by about 60 drummers. In some cases, several teams of drummers perform together in a 500- to 1,000-meter-long procession.

Much like the people and landscape of Ansai County, the drum dance is straightforward, uninhibited and displays a deep passion for life.

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