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Paro Tshechu: Kaka - Marathon mask dancer

If health permits, Kaka expects to perform at the Paro tshechu for another 10 years.

That would make it four decades of mask dancing for the diminutive figure from Dotey.With 30 years already under his belt, Kaka, 45, is one of the longest serving performers in Paro dzongkhag.

Kaka took to mask dancing when he was 15. "Perhaps I was too small to be in the group, but it didn't matter," Kaka said.Today, at the annual Paro tshechu, he is almost in the list of every dance group.

When he first joined the dzongkhag cham group, he started with Raksha-mangcham, the Dance of Judgment Day, which has 13 steps. "Each step took me a day to pick up. In two weeks, I picked up all the steps," he said. "That was one of the most beautiful memories of my teenage years."

His root teachers were lopen Damchu, Haap Chencho and Phub Tshering, from whom he mastered the Boecham, which gained roots in Bhutan, after the introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century, and is usually performed by lay monks.

Once dancers have thoroughly learned the steps, they just need to exercise their body. "Exercise is to gain stamina." Kaka said, "The body needs to be trained to make it flexible to perform well. Practising without the mask is easy but, with the mask and robes, it's difficult to be steady with the same amount of energy."

His favourite dance is Drametse Nga chham, which originated from Tertoen Pema Lingpa's time in Drametse monastery, Mongar, in the 15th century.It's believed to have been originally performed by the heroes and heroines of the celestial world.This group of dancers is dressed in short robes, and put on wooden masks with features of real and mythical animals.

Like Kaka, Phuba has also been performing for 28 years.He performed for 20 years in the royal academy of performing arts, and in 2004, he joined the Paro dzongkhag group.

Today, he is the senior dancer and leads the group of 36 dancers.The 49-year-old from Dopshari said performing to a crowd brings pride to the performers.

"I don't know how to generate the state of mind of imagining heroes and heroines of celestial beings, but I perform with utmost interest," Phuba said.

Both Kaka and Phuba draw around Nu 16,000 in a year for performing during the tshechu.
A mask dancer teacher, Phub Tshering , said Kaka and Phuba have good action and gesture required to perform mask dance.

The two dancers will perform around 13 items during the five-day tshechu that ends today.After the tshechu, it's back to their village to resume their daily chores in the field.

Contributed by Tenzin Namgyel, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2012
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