[ East Asia | Northern Asia | South Asia | South East Asia | South West Asia / Middle East | Central Asia ]
Asia is the world’s largest continent both in size and population. It
is separated from Europe by the Ural Mountains and boasts enormous
rivers, dense jungles and immense deserts. The highest place on earth,
Mount Everest is in Asia. The Dead Sea, the earth’s lowest point, is
The nations of Asia have a variety of political systems. Some
countries, such as China and Vietnam have a communist system of
government. Others, like India, Japan and South Korea, have governments
based on democratic principles. Still others are governed by royalty or
religious or military leaders.
Civilization began in Asia more than 5000 years ago with the
establishment of cities and the development of economics, law, the
arts, medicine and science. Writing and the earliest forms of
literature were invented in Asia, as were paper, the magnetic compass,
and movable type.
[ China | Japan | Korea ]
East Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms. The following countries are located in geographic East Asia: China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. Cultural East Asia,
meaning that there is much influence and overlap of religion, political
philosophy, and language, can also be said to include other areas such
as Vietnam, Tibet, and Singapore.
China is a huge country in eastern Asia. It is the world's largest
country in population and the third largest in area. About a fifth of
the world's people
(over 1 billion!) live in China. Beijing is the
capital and China’s second largest city.
Although China has some of the largest cities in the world and over a
hundred cities with more than a million people, the majority of the
population still live in rural areas. Half of all workers in China are
About 92 percent of the population in China belong to the Han
nationality. The remaining 8 percent are made up over more than 55
minority groups—including Kazakhs, Mongols and Tibetans—that are
distinguished by a unique language and culture. The Chinese refer to
their country as Zhongguo, which means “Middle Country.” It is a
reference to ancient China’s perception of itself as the geographical
and cultural center of the world.
[ Chinese Theatrical Dance (Wuju) | DunHuang Dance | Kunqu Opera | Lion Dance ]
Coming from a broad and vast country with numerous ethnic groups,
Chinese dance has a history of over five thousand years. Until the Han
dynasty (206 B. C. - A. D. 220), most of the Chinese dances originated
from the "folks," people dancing in their communities and at
celebrations. During the Han period, a musical entertainment court was
established for the imperial family, which was essentially a center for
systematically documenting and enhancing folk songs and dances. Later,
because of the political stability and the economic prosperity of the
Tang dynasty (A. D. 618 - 907), poetry, music and dance flourished.
Dances in the Tang dynasty inherited techniques that were developed
in the past dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han, Wei, Jin, and Nanbei. During
the early Tang period, Buddhism was introduced to China, and because
trade and social relationship with other countries rapidly expanded,
dances were influenced by folk dances of other countries such as India,
Rome, Persia (Iran), Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, and other Central
Asian countries. In addition, it also combined with other forms of fine
arts such as painting, scenery, and colorful costumes as well as poetry,
classical music and drama. The combination of these colorful traditions
brought the performing arts to a new peak, and the Tang dynasty has been
regarded as the golden age for dance in ancient China.
Chinese Theatrical Dance (Wuju)
This dance-drama style develops themes from sources like the Chinese Opera,
of which the Peking or Beijing form is best known as the "national" opera style
of China, and marries them with dance techniques from the West. In Chinese
operas, there are often complex story lines that can feature the various disciplines
of performing arts, such as singing, acting, music, acrobatics, and story telling,
in different parts of the same play. In theatrical dance, however, vignettes
are performed that frame a moment in a much longer narrative. The costumes
are from the traditional design of Peking Opera for the intellectuals, with
the folding fans typical for this type of character, for example.
Chinese theatrical dance traces its origin to court celebrations in
ancient China. With the influence of Russian Ballet techniques after
the 1949 Revolution, Chinese theatrical dance became a national project.
During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese ballet became known abroad as
Revolutionary Ballet with its themes of proletarian solidarity and Communist
political leadership. Madame Jiang Qing's two famous ballets of that
period, "The White-Haired Girl" and "The Red Detachment of Women" have
both disappeared from the contemporary repertoire.
Today, Chinese wuju themes range from those based on fairy tales and
literary references - often accompanied by traditional Chinese music
played with a variety of instruments such as er-hu and pi-pa - to folkloric
staging of regional minority dances, all orchestrated.
Chinese traditional music is pentatonic and is rooted in the rich soil
of folk customs and feelings. Increasingly, Western orchestration in
terms of harmonic effect, and contemporary techno music with its heavy
beat (along with modern dance technique) have entered the stream of Chinese
dance over the past decades and are becoming part of the Chinese theatrical
dance music stock.
DunHuang, an ancient city in Gansu Province, Western China, was the
gateway to what was called the "Silk Road" leading to Central Asia and
Europe. The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to not one but many routes
of trade and cultural and religious exchange extending from China, through
Central Asia, to the Middle East and Western Europe. DunHuang is world
famous for its artistic sculpture statues and fresco paintings of the
4th - 14th century in China, which reflect Silk Road civilization and
important aspects of the Chinese people's religious life, arts, and customs
in the history, including the introduction of Buddhism to China during
this period. Over 1,000 caves were cut out of the cliffs in Dunhuang
in this period, and a wide variety of colored frescoes and murals were
preserved in these caves before it excavations in the 20th century. It
has been regarded as a national treasure of China.
DunHuang frescoes contain many artistic representations of famous images
as depicted in various Buddhist stories and sutras - classic religious
texts of Buddhism. These outstanding and graceful artistic images show
as aesthetic form that often reflected daily life in China in the age
the frescoes were painted. In the late 1980's, after close study of these
images from Dunhuang frescoes, leading Chinese dance experts created
a special Silk Road style dance called "DunHuang Dance." With a breathtaking
beauty and elegance, this cultural performance reflects a rich and distinctive
dance tradition in China.
Kunqu (pronounced kwin chu) is one of the oldest and most refined
styles of traditional Chinese theater performed today. It is a
synthesis of dance, drama, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and music, and draws
on earlier forms of Chinese theatrical performances such as mime,
farce, acrobatics and ballad singing. Some of these theater traditions
date back to before the third century BC.
In a Kunqu performance, recitation is interspersed with arias sung to
traditional melodies, called qu-pai. Each word or phrase is also
expressed by a stylized movement or gesture that is part of the dance,
with strict rules of style and execution. Even casual gestures must be
precisely executed and timed to coordinate with the music and
percussion. The refinement of the movement is further enhanced with
stylized costumes, which also serve as simple props. In 2001, Kunqu was
honored by UNESCO as one of 19 "Masterpieces of the
Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."
The lion dance is typically performed at special celebrations to invoke
good luck, prosperity, and happiness. It marks the beginning of an
event or rite of passage such as, the New Year, a wedding, or a
business’ grand opening.
Chinese culture, the lion is considered a divine animal respected for
its nobility, bravery, and protective presence. Lions are believed to
have powers to ward off evil and to guard truth, thus lion statues are
found throughout Chinese communities the world over as sentinels to the
entrances of homes, palaces and temples, and even restaurants and
banks. Despite their ubiquitous place in Chinese society, lions are not
native to China. Their exact introduction into China is uncertain, yet
it is believed that they were first brought from Central Asia as part
of the Silk Road trade and given as gifts to emperors of the Eastern
Han Dynasty of 25-220 CE. Chinese literature of the Han Dynasty
mentions lion dances, and ceramic figurines of the Tang Dynasty depict
Originally associated with Taoist ceremonies, the lion
dance was used to invoke deities and bring auspiciousness to the
community. Over the years the dance has evolved as a form of
entertainment, yet many elements retain symbolic meaning. Certain
musical beats relate to Taoist deities, some movements contain
ceremonial steps to exorcize evil, the mirror on the lion’s forehead is
believed to absorb universal energy that reflects back onto the
community, and the drumming and shouting represent the Chinese
pictogram for joy.
Mostly preserved by martial arts schools, the lion dance has been performed in San Francisco since 1852.
Japan is an island nation in the northern part of the Pacific, near the
east coast of Asia. It’s four main islands, (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu
and Shikoku) and its numerous smaller islands lie across from Russia,
Korea and China. The Japanese people refer to their country as Nippon,
which means “land of the rising sun.” Tokyo is the capital of Japan and
its largest city.
Despite its small size, Japan is one of the world’s most populous
nations. The majority of the people live along the coast in huge
cities. The Tokyo metropolitan region, which includes the cities of
Yokohama and Kawasaki, is the most populous urban area in the world.
Japan is an economic giant, renowned for the manufacturing of cars,
textiles, computers, and other cutting-edge technologies. Its gross
national product is second only to that of the United States.
The theatre forms of Noh and Kyogen are still popular
today, six hundred years after their birth, not only because
of the universality of the themes of the plays, but because of
their sparse use of gesture and space. Kyogen is performed on
a simple, open stage with a polished wooden floor that enhances
the gliding motion of its footwork. Tall pillars, often supporting
a pagoda style roof, mark each corner of the stage. At the back
of the stage is a pine-tree (outdoors) or a painting of a pine-tree
that represents long life and good fortune. It is the only "set" used
in Kyogen performance.
Kyogen movement is highly stylized and each movement is choreographed.
Each posture, every walk and each piece of business is defined.
the literal translation for Kyogen is "crazy words," and the
accompanying dialogue is simple, direct and comically exaggerated.
training begins at the age of three or four in "families" of
actors who have generations of experience. The child is trained,
one-on-one, by the grandfather in short dances and songs, and
without a script. The child mimics everything the grandfather
does. Although he may appear very briefly onstage as a child,
it is more likely that his acting career begins between eighteen
or twenty. Even then he will remain under the eyes of senior
family members until the age of forty when it is considered
that he is mature enough in the tradition to occasionally depart
from the style with small innovations.
Kyogen appeared in the period of the Northern and Southern
Courts, but came to the fore with the rise of the commoner
classes. Kyogen is the opposite of elite Noh in that it is
a robust comic genre. It has the role of a counterpoint facing
the tragic and profound tension of Noh. Full of satire in the
manner of Commedia dell'Arte, Kyogen goes for improvisation
and laughs; it regarded as the ancestor of the modern Japanese
is located on a peninsula to the east and south of China and Russia,
and to the west of Japan. There are about 3,000 islands belonging to
Korea, mostly off the west and south coasts. Because of its
geographical location, Chinese culture filtered into Japan through
Korea, and these three countries share a common cultural sphere of
Buddhism and Confucianism. At the end of World War II, the Korean
peninsula was divided into two distinct regions with differing
governing systems, known as North Korea and South Korea.
Korean Traditional Dance
[ Geommu | Sogochum ]
Korean traditional dance is varied and diverse, but it can be divided into three groups: jakbeop (Buddhist ceremonial dance), jeongjae
(court dance), and folk dance. Dance has been performed at major
national and religious events in Korea since about 900AD. Court dances
developed around 1392 with the installation of royal culture, and were
danced at national banquets and celebrations as well as for foreign
dignitaries. Most court dances are in praise of the solemnity and
importance of the royal family, and are characterized by the beautiful
costumes and strong artistic blend. Korean folk dances, on
the other hand, developed along with increase in commerce and industry,
in the early 1900’s. They express the lives and emotions of the common
people and often gives commentary on and criticizes the society of the
Geommu (also transliterated Gummu, Kommu) is a traditional sword dance practiced in Korea.
Geommu is performed with special costume, dance motions, and music. The
dance is known for its grace in performance. Extra emphasis is placed
on the movement of the costuming, notably the sleeves, in harmony with
the movements of the dancer. The symbolic use of a Kal, a replica
sword, keeps to the militaristic origins of this dance.
Dancers of Geommu wear Hanbok
Kwaeja (overcoat), Jeon-Dae (belt), and Jeon-Rip (military style cap).
Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress that consists of Chima (a skirt)
and Jeogori (a jacket). These elements combine to form a stylized
version of the Joseon Dynasty military uniform. The costume
traditionally has the colors of blue, red, yellow, green and black but
many regional variations exist. The Jinju region has a blue Chima and a jade green Jeogori.Gwangju in the Jeolla province has a red Chima and a light green Jeogori.
The Kal is the replica sword used in Geom-mu. Between the blade and
the handle of a Kal are three rings called Kukhwa. These three rings
have varying sizes and make sounds when performers dance the Geom-mu.
Sogochum is one of the most popular solo performances in Nong-ak. The sogo(small
drum) used in this dance, is about 15 inches in diameter. The drum is
held together with a knob with the left-hand and is beaten on the
drumhead with a firm stick with the right-hand. The nong-ak
band features the sogo as a dance prop as well as a musical instrument.
The sogo players usually occupy the front line on stage, with the solo
[ Russia ]
North Asia is generally understood to consist entirely of Siberia,
which lies in the Asian part of Russia. Russia is a transcontinental
country, the largest country in the world, stretching over a vast
expanse of Europe and Asia. For our purposes, Russia will belong to
Russia is an immense and vast land which stretches from Far East Asia
all the way to Europe. It shares land borders with Norway, Finland,
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia,
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It is also
close to the United States and Japan across short stretches of water.
Many nomadic peoples have moved across the steppes of Russia
for many thousands of years. The "Rom" community (also known as Gypsies)
is a very large population, though they have been suppressed and romanticized
throughout the years. They are thought to have come out of India, integrating
themselves as they move, into the local cultures in which they now
live. Their descendents are known for their musicality, sensuality,
and liveliness in music and dance.
Russian folkloric dance, just like folkloric dance forms from many
other countries, is a mixture of traditional music and dances done
in villages and cities, on the streets and in ceremonial situations,
in parties and celebrations, combined with classical movement forms
such as ballet, modern dance, and sometimes gymnastics or acrobatics.
By mixing these genres, dances are created which use the stories, music,
and costumes of a nation or region, yet which have integrated aesthetic
styles which are popular on the international stage with varied audiences.
Some traditional Russian dances, such as "Cossack" and "Gypsy" [after
the Rom style], were mixed with rigorous ballet and spectacular gymnastics,
athletics, and theatrics into what is called the Moiseyev style after
the famous Russian choreographer, director, and impresario Igor Alexandrovich
[ India ]
The South Asian countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
[ North India | South India ]
India is a very diverse country, about a third the size of the United States.
It has more than 22 states in which there are many distinct languages, each
having its own alphabet, a different mode of dress, dance, song, and different
flavors to the food! In each region of India, as in most places in the world,
people have their own kinds of folk dances, which are very diverse. Some
use clapping, swirling, dancing on stilts, tapping rhythms on sticks with
partners; there are harvest dances, fisherman dances, all kinds.
Most young Indians living in urban areas are up to date with Western
pop culture, MTV and rap as well, and may be very fond of Indian cinema
which features singing and dancing. While folk and "filmi" dances
are different from the classical dance forms, they do share some gestures
and movement vocabulary.
North India is one of India’s three main geographical regions. The
Vindhya mountains mark the southern boundary of North India and the Son
river and the Kosi river marks its eastern border. North India consists
of thirteen Indian states: Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh,
Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand,
Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. India’s capital,
New Delhi, is in this region.
"Kathakars," were nomadic storytellers who used a combination of music,
dance, and acting to narrate religious tales from the Hindu epics,
MAHABHARATA and RAMAYANA. Kathak's primary role, during that period,
was to evoke devotion, "Bhakti" in the audience.
is among the six major classical dances of India, originating from the temples of North India. The word kathak is derived from
the Sanskrit word "katha," meaning
Kathak today has two distinct styles, the The Muslim conquest of
India led to the Mughal Empires of the 15th through 19th centuries,
creating a distinctive Indian-Islamic civilization, manifested largely
through the arts. It was here that the Hindu Maharajas and the Muslim Mughal leaders hired Kathakas to
entertain them in their lavish courts, transforming kathak
from a form of devotion to more secular entertainment. Due to the
which forbade the representation of God in human forms, the dancers
needed to modify and disguise religious movements. The simple Hindu
storytelling style was also enhanced to reflect court entertainment
etiquettes, which included a high degree of formalization, style and a
vivid sensuous quality to the dance. Rhythmic footwork, fast
pirouettes, and subtle intricate movements became its signature.Lucknow
and the Jaipur gharana
. While the Jaipur gharana
emphasizes the technical mastery of pure dance and swift turns, the Lucknow gharana
emphasizes expressive content including refined gesture and abhinaya
(expression). Combining the devoutness of the Hindu temple with
luscious entertainment from the Mughal and Rajput courts, the tradition
of Kathak dance continues to evolve throughout the world in the
twenty-first century. Enriched by contemporary literature, music and
performance, Kathak responds to an increasingly global culture.
Footwork and "Bols"
is the basic footwork of kathak. While the origin of this footwork
still remains uncertain, it is considered to have been derived from the
natawari bols (syllables) ta,
thei, and tat. In
kathak, the idea of worship through dance involves the spiritual
relationship of the dancer in contact with the earth, in order to reach
, body (from Tanu
, Earth (from Sthela
, Lord (from Eishwara
The body that dances on the earth for the Lord
has developed into a very sophisticated system of footwork and rhythmic
is also a study into the power of energy. The soles of the feet
generate a flow of energy which streams through all the cells in the
muscles and bones of the body as the body moves in tune with the
energy. The energy flows up to the crown of the mind, dissolving
thought as it unites with the energy, and a harmony of body and mind is
realized. It is at this level that dance becomes a yogic practice.
South India is one of India’s three main geographical regions. South
India traditionally includes the entire Indian Peninsula south of the
Satpura and Vindhya mountains. The region is made up of the five south
Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil
One of the most ancient of the dance styles is what is now called
Bharata natyam. Bharatha is a combination of 'bha' for Bhava meaning expressions, 'ra' for ragam meaning music and 'tha' for thalam meaning rhythm. Natyam means dance. An encyclopedia of dance, music and theatre was written
in India two thousand years ago, called the Natya Shastra, so we know that formal
performing arts were already established by then and the rules governing
the training and performance of dancers was already well established.
Up to about a hundred years ago, dancers were dedicated to perform
in the temple for the deities, in order to chase away bad spirits and
bring good fortune to the king, and all those who came to worship at
the temple. They also danced and played music to wake up the gods in
the early morning, and sang lullabies to put them to bed at night.
During the 200 years that the British ruled India they gradually impoverished
the royal patrons and royal temples that had once lavishly supported
temple dance and other ceremonial arts. Only in those regions where
strong local rajas maintained political power did these courtly arts
continue to flourish.
Part of the Indian Independence movement, starting from the late 19th century,
focused on the recovery of India's unique cultural legacies. One such
individual involved in this process of recovery was Rukmini Devi Arundale
who established the "Kalakshetra" school in 1936 in Madras (Chennai).
As soon as India won independence from Britain in 1947 the new Indian
government set up arts scholarships and festivals to encourage Indian
culture once again. Now Indians of elite social classes, which once
would have nothing to do with temple dancing, form the vast majority
of practitioners of Bharata natyam, an extraordinary social phenomenon
in less than 60 years!
Tamilnadu is considered the homeland of Bharata natyam, though it
is danced by women and men from all over India and the world. In fact,
the Bay Area has one of the largest concentrations of Bharata natyam
dancers in the world with estimates of over 600 dancers studying and
Today, typically, students begin training at the age of six or seven,
and they will be teenagers by the time they have become good performers.
They first learn simple steps to give strength and coordination, later
they add more complex movements using many different foot patterns
and geometric poses, all which must be performed in fast speeds perfectly
in time with the music. The students need to learn a whole language
of mudras, or hand gestures, in order to act out the words of the songs,
and, ideally, they learn the dance songs themselves.
With these carefully taught mudras (see the Why
and How We Dance page in the Thinking and Talking activities
section for pictures of some mudras), mathematically precise footsteps,
and perfect geometric measures in the movements and poses, storytelling
emanates from the heavens to the people of earth, to nimble dancers
dressed in jewels and gold threaded silks in rainbow colors who,
at one time, performed their ceremonial dances in the Hindu temples.
Bharata natyam is not the only Indian classical dance style - almost
every region has a classical style with a solo dance tradition and
a drama style to enact whole stories that last all night. The stories,
in Bharata natyam, are told through song and the songs are about the
gods. The main theme is the victory of good over evil. The main feature
of Bharat natyam is the use of the face, eyes and fingers to tell these
stories with wonderful theatrical expressions. In a solo dance, the
performer must play all the roles, but in a dance-drama a different
performer will take each part.
mythological tales of ancient India, which have been told for thousands
of years, are narrated through the unique language of gestures and
dramatic mime of Bharatanatyam. They are tales of the gods and heroes,
about the great king Rama, banished to the forest, whose wife was kidnapped
by a ravenous ten-headed king, and how he rescued her with the help
of Hanuman, the monkey general, and all the animals. There are tories
of how the beautiful Goddess Meenakshi, skilled in all the arts including
the art of warfare, challenged Shiva, the most powerful of all the
gods, to a duel, and how, on the battlefield, they fell in love…
South East Asia
[ Indonesia ]
Southeast Asia lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic and volcanic activity. It includes island arcs and archipelagoes southeast and also east of the Asian mainland. Southeast Asia is geographically divided into two regions, Indochina and the Malay Archipelago. Indochina or mainland Southeast Asia includes Myanmar,
Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The Malay archipelago consists
of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, and the
is a small island in Southeast Asia, with sparkling oceans and volcanic
mountains, rural rice fields and bustling urban centers. Malay people
are the vast majority in Bali, and a local form of Hinduism
predominates, shaping Balinese life and art since long before the
island became part of Indonesia. Balinese music and dance is many centuries old,
but continues to develop as a living tradition. In Bali, dance is
always closely allied to music, not only in the fact that many gamelan
(gong-chime orchestra or ensemble) performances include dance as a
major component, but also because the details of choreography and dance
gesture are tightly synchronized with the music's accents and textures.
The traditions evolved primarily in the context of the highly ornate,
multi-faceted ceremonies of Balinese Hindu culture. In these dances,
the performance is seen as an offering to the Hindu deities, who are
invited down from the heavens to visit the temples during temple
anniversaries and other auspicious ritual occasions.
art forms are constantly added to the classical repertoire of Balinese
dances. In Bali, the word “traditional” does not carry the same
significance as here, because almost all new work is based on older
work, which is then re-arranged and modified according to modern tastes
and interpretations. There is thus a smooth continuum between old and
new in the accepted creation of new traditions by artists of the
Several newly created dances are also very popular, such as the Tari Kijang Kencana ("the Golden Deer Dance") and Tari Manuk Rawa ("Long Legged Bird Dance"), both created within the last 30 years.
is a traditional Balinese dance form based on movements from the
ceremonial dance. While Legong is still performed in ceremonies, there
are form that are more secular in nature. For example,
Joged dances are true popular dance
forms in Bali performed for entertainment; traditionally they were done
in the street or the village square.
has existed in Bali for at least 300 years, and remains enormously
popular throughout Bali. In Topeng, a story from Balinese history is presented through
a series of masked dances. Topeng dancers hold a special role among
performing artists, in that they must be literate in history and
religion, and be aware of local, national, and international developments.
There are many forms of Topeng, including Topeng
Pajegan, a form specifically performed
by a solo dancer playing several masked characters, and Topeng Panca,
normally performed by a troupe of five dancers. The Topeng characters
not only explicate the story, but also make a connection between that
story and the event at hand, which might be a religious ceremony such
as a temple anniversary, a human rite of passage such as a funeral, or
even a political rally. The character not only reveals the traditional
meaning of the ceremony, but also makes comments on politics, morality,
and the modern function of the ceremony. In the 20th century,
increasing Western artistic interest in the holistic arts context of
Balinese Hindu culture changed the traditions somewhat, however
Balinese arts are well equipped to change and evolve with the times,
and yet keep their spiritual and social essence and integrity.
the masks danced in Topeng include the Old Man, Clown characters,
servants, and Kings. Traditionally,
the first two or three characters to come out are the opening,
non-speaking characters. With the entrance of the speaking penasar,
servant to the king, the story begins to be revealed. Other masks
advance the story in one way or another -- by singing in the lofty
language of kings and princes, by interpreting and commenting
on that language for the audience, by cracking jokes, and, at
moments when the music stops, through sparkling banter and dialogue
with other characters. (Notice the parallel to other masked movement
styles, such as Commedia dell'Arte!)
that are used in Topeng, as with all other Balinese masked performance,
are carved by revered mask makers out of a light wood called pule
(poo-lay). Mask makers have a special respected place in Balinese
society, and those who carve masks for ceremonial types of masked
dance do so out of live trees.
for Topeng underscores the topeng's character, reflecting refinement,
strength, or humor. Music for the refined characters will have
longer "gong cycles" or rhythmic patterns, while the funnier and
coarser character are accompanied by shorter gong cycles.
South West Asia / Middle East
[ Afghanistan ]
Southwest Asia, also called the Middle East, extends from Afghanistan in the east to Saudi Arabia in
the West, and includes Armenia, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Jordon, Turkey and
eleven other countries. Most of Southwest Asia is desert, with little rainfall. Despite the
scarcity of water, most inhabitants are farmers, living along the
coasts and near rivers and valleys where water is more available.
The Arab ethnic group makes up the majority in more than half of the
countries in the region, having lived there since ancient times. Israel, most
of whose people are Jews, lies among the Arab nations. Like the Arabs,
Jews have lived in Southwest Asia since ancient times. The ongoing
disputes between Christians, Jews and Muslims
makes Southwest Asia one of the world’s most politically troubled
While most of the inhabitants live in rural areas, the cities of
southwest Asia have grown tremendously in the last fifty years.
The three largest cities of Southwest Asia are Baghdad, Iraq; Tehran,
Iran; and Istanbul, Turkey. There are more urban people than rural
people in each of the countries of Southwest Asia, except Afghanistan
is a country in South West Asia. It is bordered by Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the north, China on the northeast,
Pakistan on the east and south and Iran on the West. Kabul is the
capital and Afghanistan’s largest city.
The people of
Afghanistan are made up of about 20 ethnic groups. The largest ethnic
groups are the Tajiks and Pashtuns who make up more than 60 percent of
the population. Pashtuns speak Pashto and live near the border with
Pakistan. Tajiks speak a language called Dari and live in the
northwestern region of the country. Despite broad differences in
language and culture among these 20 ethnic groups, the people share a
common religion, Islam.
Afghan dance and music are influenced by traditional folk
songs, ballads, and dances. Music is an important
part of every happy occasion, from picnics to wedding and family celebrations.
Music is also a way the Afghan people practice the ancient art of storytelling.
Telling traditional folktales, through music and the spoken word, is a highly
developed and much appreciated art form. The use of folklore has become the
thread that links Afghanistan’s rich past and turbulent present. Folktales
concern all parts of Afghan life and often teach traditional values, beliefs,
and music can be classified according to ethnic and geographic divisions. The
Pashtuns of the south have wild and virile dances, the Uzbeks of the north
practice dance forms similar to those of other Turkic Central Asian peoples, and the Heratis
have developed a style that reflects their rich past, when the city of Herat was the
cultural center of the Islamic world. Perhaps the best known dance is the Attan
, the national dance which comes
from the southern Pashtun region. In performing the Attan,
dancers form a large circle, clapping their hands and
rapidly moving their feet to the music’s rhythm
The five Central Asian countries are Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.