"Among the vast array of ancient practices and traditions, the north-eastern dance forms are a hidden gem that long to be discovered."
Cheraw dance is a traditional cultural dance performed in Mizoram, India in which six to eight people hold pairs of bamboo staves on horizontally placed bamboo on the ground.
Being one of Mizoram's most famous and beautiful dances, it forms the center of attention during festive occasions.
Folklores behind the Folk Dance
This energetic dance, which brims with joy and liveliness, is thought to have started as early as the first century AD. The usage of long bamboo staves while performing is said to have given it its name “Bamboo Dance”.
It was performed in ancient rituals and was thought to comfort the spirit of a deceased mother who had died and left her newborn child on earth.
The scope of Cheraw Dance has, since then, significantly expanded as the traditional beliefs have partially diminished over time.
The Mizo of Mizoram now performs this dance on any given occasion. It serves as a popular form of entertainment and witnesses enthusiastic dancers demonstrating their skills for onlookers at Nagaland's renowned Hornbill Festival.
Stepping through the steps
Going over the dance's steps, which are performed by both men and women in unison, the male dancers move the bamboo staves in rhythmic beats while the female dancers perform by stepping in and out of the bamboo blocks.
The women folk dance between the bamboos moving by stepping back and forth from between and over a pair of horizontal bamboos as the men hold the bamboos.
Simple, calculated hops are taken between the bamboo sticks to avoid coming into contact with them.
The dancers weave in and out of the grid created by the horizontal bamboos, moving slowly at first and then more quickly.
Now, as for the arrangement, two bamboo sticks are arranged vertically, with some room between them.
There are several sticks arranged horizontally on top of these.
The horizontal bamboos are slid in a rhythm by three to four people sitting on either side of the structure.
Small grids are formed in the spaces between the vertical bamboos as a result of the bamboos' alignment.
The dancers stand in this area and stomp their feet to the music.
Throughout the entire show, the dancers and singers chant "hih-hoh." for an added effect and the sound the sliding bamboos make works in enhancing the program as well.
Articulating elation through attire
Regarding the elaborate dance costumes for this dance, the 1960s saw the development of the Vakira, a female headdress made of bamboo and embellished with feathers, beetle wings, and other bright items.
Female dancers frequently don the Kawrchei, a white red green black blouse, and the Puanchei, a white red green black sarong, while performing the Cheraw dance. Men usually wear a Khumbeu hat made of bamboo and a Mizo shawl.
All of these traditional Cheraw Dance costumes are brightly colored, which further brightens up the surroundings.
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Festivities and celebrations
The majority of Mizoram dances are performed during festival times. These folk dances are typically performed in groups. The gong and the drum are two of the Mizos' traditional musical instruments.
Accordion, mandolin, and guitar played by musicians wearing non-traditional attire are used to accompany Cheraw's later practices. It is one of the most traditional dances, now an essential component of almost all of the state's festivals.
More about the Cheraw dance of Mizoram:
A quick glance at the popular occasions on which it is performed reveals that it is most exuberantly performed on the occasion of "Buhza Aih," or the bumper harvest where one family performs this traditional dance.
In essence, it is mostly performed by a select group of girls with exceptional skills rather than a community dance. It is also used to celebrate success during merry-making times and during wedding ceremonies.
The unheard dance steps
A sizable crowd gathers to watch the proud performance of the few talented dancers every time. It usually takes place at night, which gives it more glory.
The rhythm for the dance is set at the time of performance by the sound of the bamboo striking one another.
The skilled dancers nevertheless carry out the various steps with grace and care, even when a rhythm is missed.
Though a considerably lesser amount of people are familiar with this folk dance, the various tribes' festivals and celebrations are examples of Naga culture with the celebrated Cheraw dance marking a fundamental component of the Naga culture.
Many tourists travel to the state each year to catch a glimpse of the dance performance.
In addition to Nagaland and Mizoram, the neighboring states of Tripura and Manipur also perform the bamboo dance. In addition, The Philippines and the Far East both have dances that are similar. A similar dance that also incorporates bamboo sticks is called "Tinikling" in the Philippines.
In 2010, a large group of Cheraw dancers dancing simultaneously set a Guinness World Record.
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Being present at the Cheraw dance performance is worthwhile, since through their dances, the Mizos truly convey their upbeat attitude and enthusiasm. It's, therefore, no surprise, that the Mizos' Bamboo Dance is considered their most vibrant and distinct dances of the state.
author: Priya Bhushan
editor: Akash R. Ekka