The Youngest Khaita Instructor, Elia Bernadoni
“Every time that I dance Khaita I remember Rinpoche, and for every dance that we danced with him I have some memory. For each dance it is different.”
My name is Elia Bernadoni, I am fifteen years old and I live in Dzamling Gar. I have been a very avid practitioner of Khaita for a long time. I first started to dance when we [my family and I] came here from Grosseto, Italy in March 2014. I was nine years old.
At that time the singing and dancing was not called Khaita, it was called Tibetan modern dances. I already knew what the situation in Tibet was and everything, and at that time I had already heard about the dances before I started to dance. I had also been looking on Youtube at some videos, and one of these videos is this song called (tùndríl-gyĭ raŋdrá) This song speaks about all the three regions uniting. I was very impressed by this song.
I was living in Grosseto, Italy, when Rinpoche started the singing and dancing but still I did not start to dance. Rinpoche actually started Khaita in Tenerife in 2011. From when I was very small, I was already researching these songs and dances and the situation in Tibet, and I felt some strong connection with that situation. Also I already had a strong connection with Rinpoche because my parents were already involved in the Community for many years. My father had already been involved in the Community for 14 years, and my mother for maybe 8 or 9 years.
I remember we were going to the airport every time Rinpoche would arrive from a journey to salute him. We were living in Grosseto, which was an hour distance from Merigar, so we were only able to go for the retreats. Khaita was more in the nighttime so I had not the possibility to dance very much at that time.
Then my family decided to move to Dzamling Gar in March 2014. I was nine years old. Dzamling Gar, like it is now, did not exist. There was only the house of the Dzamling Gar Gakyil. Also Rinpoche’s house was not there, and it was like a ruined place. We lived in Guia di Isora in the mountains for five years.
When I first started to come to Dzamling Gar, Khaita was already in the White Tent. They were dancing every day until late at night. My parents brought me to Dzamling Gar, dropped me off and went to do errands. So I was staying here and then at the end of the session of Khaita my parents would come to pick me up.
My first experience when I first saw Khaita was that it was something new because I did not really like to dance before. I was very shy at that time and for me all these kinds of dances were terrible. So at the beginning I liked them, but not too much. I joined because I was here. My parents did not really encourage me, I encouraged them! And many times they would join us because Rinpoche was there.
In reality in the beginning the dancing was difficult for me, but as I said before I did not really like to dance, so many movements I would not do. They were all doing them and I was looking. And at that time I was also not moving so much, so I was stiff and awkward a bit.
To dance with Rinpoche every day in the White Tent was something special. I don’t know how to explain it very well because only people who were there can explain and can understand what it was like. But also for me the most powerful time was at the end, when he was not very well but he was coming to Khaita every day. At that time I was putting on the music. That was in 2018 and I was thirteen years old.
Rinpoche was not speaking too much at that time, but I had some special contact. I cannot explain how. He was wearing a mask, I was looking at him, he was looking at me, and I could feel that there was some connection. Also I remember once we were dancing the song called Yangkhor Dzongdruk; it was a slow dance. After this dance there was a dance where men and women alternated, so I needed to run to stop the music.There was this playlist of Golok dances at that time. I was going near to Rinpoche and I thought,“Maybe I should go to sit and stop the music.” I thought, “No. I will finish in front of Rinpoche and then I stop.” So I finished in front of Rinpoche and then he looked at me and did like this with the head [nodding at that direction] like saying “You need to go, run to stop the music” and he laughed, I could see that he was laughing behind the mask.
Also before when he was a little bit better I had the possibility to accompany him before and after Khaita and walk him back and forth from his house to the Tent and back. It was very special because the connection with Rinpoche became more vivid. And I remember also when I was smaller, I was seeing Rinpoche on the throne and I was feeling not separated, even though he was far away in some sense. And then accompanying him and also all this experience of through Khaita brought me more near to him. I felt more of a connection.
My relationship to Khaita has developed; at the beginning I was a small child so I did not give too much importance. Also at that time there were many children dancing and so at first what was more important for me was staying with other children and dancing. Children were dancing at that time. So I was going there because there were children, and then after one year they did not go anymore, so I also did not go anymore, I was following them. And then, I remember in 2015, I said, “No, I need to engage more in Khaita.” And also I decided to do my first retreat, the first retreat where I said “I want to do this retreat.” It was in 2015. My first retreat was the lung retreat of the Dratalgyur.
Every day after the teachings there was dancing. And then after that, at the beginning of 2016, Adriana asked me to dance at Losar. I was a little bit more serious at that time, more than in 2014. So I danced at Losar and then, a month later, there was a Khaita exam. At that time I was not thinking to do the exam, but two weeks before the Khaita exam, I remember some people told me, “Adriana told us that we need to tell you that you need to do the Khaita exam.” I had only two weeks to prepare all these fifty dances and I did not know all of them. I knew only the one that I explained. It’s the only one that I studied – the meaning with the mudras and everything. I remember that I was very, very fortunate but also I was very nervous. I was thinking, “If I take one of these dances that I don’t know, what I will do?” It was a Rinpoche miracle that he chose the only dance I knew for my exam.
After the exam I started to be more serious because I felt like I had a commitment with Rinpoche to explain the dances and bring ahead his work. And in 2018, when he was coming every day, he was not well, then I felt really I need to do more, I could not give up Khaita, also after he passed away I said, “I need to do Khaita every day like Rinpoche was doing.” For this reason I was doing Khaita everyday because I felt like before when there was Rinpoche I was going every day, and now, when there is no more Rinpoche, if I don’t go to dance every day, it’s a little bit strange.
When I am dancing, I try to forget all the problems, and like Rinpoche was saying, when we dance, we cannot think about our problems. This is helping me very much. Also for the school, if there are some problems, I do Khaita and then later all the problems disappear.
Until now I have helped create eight dances, but I did not create all these dances alone. I created with other people. The first two dances I created with Premek and they were the first dances I created. That was In the summer 2016 and 2017. And then in the summer of 2018 I created two other dances with Nicola, and we presented these dances to Rinpoche. And that was also a very nice experience.
Each time we created a dance, we presented the dance to Rinpoche. At the beginning Rinpoche was saying, “This dance is ok, this you need to do something more.” When we created the dances with Nicola, and Rinpoche was not very well at that time, after we created the dances, we presented them to him when he came to the Gönpa. And then some people told me, “You should go to Rinpoche now and ask him if this dance is good or not.” Nicola went to Rinpoche. Rinpoche was very angry, I remember, and he said, “Why are you asking me if this dance is good or not? Do you want me to say that this dance is good or not?” For me it was like Rinpoche was telling us how to go ahead, because now also there is this problem of if we can create new dances or not. If create other new dances, who can say if this dance is good or not? I think Rinpoche was saying to us, “What do you want me to tell you?” It seems that he wanted us to decide. He was preparing us.
Also this December we created two dances with Yangcen, these two new dances are from the Barsam collection, and then in January I created a new dance, alone, but I copied it from a Tibetan video and in March my mother and I created another new dance.
I taught my first class together with Yulia Petrova before the Mandarava retreat this year. It helped me very much that Yulia was there because it was new experience for me and I was not very confident to explain. During Khaita time I have explained some dances but it was also the first time that I was explaining the Dzamling Gar song. That was a very nice experience for me because when you are explaining, and you need to explain to other people, you need to go deeper in your knowledge. And many things I was not thinking that are in this song, I discovered that they are. I realized that many movements have a very deep meaning, it’s not superficial. Like Rinpoche was saying, the Dzamling Gar song is a very real teaching. You don’t need to do many retreats, or anything, if you know the meaning of the Dzamling Gar Song, then you have everything.
I think Khaita has a very deep meaning. Rinpoche was a very great master and he was always doing the best so that people could recognize their real nature and get into the state of contemplation. The last years of his life he dedicated so much time for Khaita and I think there is a very deep meaning for this, because Rinpoche was saying many times, “I always do useful things, not useless things. I don’t like to do useless things because we know that our life is very short and if we lose time on useless things then at the end of our life we say, “Oh the life is finished. What do we do now?” So I think when people are dancing they should go into the deeper meaning of Khaita because all the practices have their function, and the structure of the practice is very clear. Also Khaita is like this. For example, people should think, why Rinpoche put Khaita singing at the beginning of a session and then the dances from the group that are a little bit more difficult, then easy dances, then Tashi and Dzamlingar Song? There is a meaning.
Every time that I dance Khaita I remember Rinpoche, and for every dance that we danced with him I have some memory – for each dance it is different.
What I discovered during these months of quarantine is that before I was also thinking “I am going to dance. We will sing and dance and at the end we do Dzamling Gar and finish.” Now I am thinking that maybe people, also me, should try to think how is their mind at the beginning of Khaita and at the end. How is your mind? And why is it like this? There is a meaning why it is like this. People should not only think, “Now we will dance and then we will sing.” And then people think, “Ah, I don’t like to sing. It’s very boring.” But why Rinpoche put singing? If it is boring why would he put singing at the beginning? Why would he would work so much for the singing part? There is a meaning.
Also I was helping with the new Khaita text this last month and I see that everything has a meaning in this text. There is a title and also the flowers Rinpoche put there, they also have a specific meaning. It’s not that you put some flower and that’s it, finish. Also Rinpoche dedicated so much time. Why would he dedicate so much time to this if it is useless? Also some people say “Oh it is boring to sing.” But it is part of the practice.
There are so many songs. And it’s not so easy to know all the songs. But I think it’s not the most important point to know all the dances. Because if your mind after Khaita is more relaxed also if you don’t know all the dances, then it is very good. It’s perfect. But if you know the dances, you know the meaning, then there is much more benefit. The same is for all other practices. If you do one long practice and you don’t know the meaning, then you have some benefit, for sure. But if you know the meaning, all the meaning, there is double benefit.
Also I was thinking that for the people that are not from the Community, it is important for them to understand the value and the meaning of the songs of Khaita. And these are values that are not only for the Tibetan people, but for all people in this world. There is freedom, for example, unity, all these values, cultural relationship, preservation, respect. All these are in Khaita. So it has a very deep meaning, if you look at it.
Transcribed by Anastasia Eremenko
Edited by Naomi Zeitz