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Standardisation of mask dances underway
The Dranyen (guitar dance) and Chhoezhay Cham (religious dance) will be introduced in other dzongkhags as part of a move to standardise mask dances in the country. These two sacred dances, popular in Thimphu and Paro, are usually performed when the Thongdroel is unfurled for the devotees during religious festivals. About 26 Chhampons (dance masters) and Chhamjugs (mask dancers) from the 11 southern and eastern dzongkhags are being taught the Dranyen and Chhoezhay Cham at the Royal Academy of Performing arts (RAPA). Thongdroel

"They will be given an opportunity to dance during the Thimphu Tshechu ," said the RAPA principal, Rabjam Thinley Jamtsho.
According to Dasho Sithel Dorji's book on the origin and description of Bhutanese mask dances, the Chozhay dance was introduced by Drogoen Tsangpa Jarey in the 12th century.

According to legend Tsangpa Jarey's attempt to open the sacred Tsari mountain to pilgrims was thwarted when the guardian deity of the Turquoise Lake, Yum Tsho, turned into a huge frog and blocked the entrance. Tsangpa Jarey subdued the frog and opened the Nye. A dance with eleven steps was introduced to commemorate the event.

The origin of the Dranyen cham goes back to the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified Bhutan by crushing all external and internal enemies. The guitar dance was introduced to celebrate the happy state of the country under the Zhabdrung's enlightened rule.

Meanwhile, most of the dances in the country had been standardised through a series of workshops organised by the RAPA.

"Although the dances existed in Bhutan from the beginning they differed from dzongkhag to dzongkhag," said Rabjam Thinley Jamtsho. "Our aim is to maintain and preserve the respective folk dances and at the same time standardise the dances taught by RAPA."

In Bhutan, there are two types of mask dances. The Boe-chham is performed by laymen and the Gyalong-cham by the monks. In Bhutan, the performance of mask dances is a deeply spiritual affair.

Courtesy of RAPA
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