Khaita Dances – Bridge to the Teaching

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gave a brief presentation of Khaita Joyful Dances at a retreat in Bratislava, the Slovak Republic, on August 21, 2016, just before retreat participants begin a session.

“Khaita is dancing with Tibetan songs. How did it develop?

I was listening to Tibetan songs. In Tibet the official language is now Chinese. The Tibetans cannot use the Tibetan language and it is gradually disappearing. The new generations do not know the Tibetan language very well because they speak Chinese.

The Tibetan language is very important in this world because we have the collection of all the teachings of the Buddha – more than three hundred volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur – in Tibetan. Although the teachings originated in India, they no longer exist there. The complete original Kangyur and Tengyur do not exist anywhere in the world, only in the Tibetan language. The ancient translators prepared them very well so when we want to translate them back to the Sanskrit it is very easy. So, if we lose the Tibetan language, we lose all of this, and all the Tibetan books will just end up in a museum.

There are many Tibetan songs supporting Tibetan culture and language so that it can continue. This is very important particularly for ordinary Tibetan people: they like to dance and sing, but then little by little they also study the meaning of the songs. For that reason, first of all I prepared and selected 108 Tibetan songs. These songs have already been transcribed and translated for Westerners. This is one volume we have.

After that I prepared 180 songs. The translations and transcriptions of these songs are almost ready. From all of these songs we have more than 160 dances and many of our dancers already know these dances. So, we are using those.

On one hand Khaita is for supporting Tibetan culture and continuing to keep it alive. Another reason is that in Dzogchen practices, as I have explained, after contemplation it is very important to be present. In order to train to be present with our physical body, our movements, and our energy, dancing is very good. I consider that Khaita dances are also part of the practice, not just dancing. It is important that you know all these things.”

Khaita Joyful Dances – Bridge to the Teaching

 During a recent course for instructors of Khaita Joyful Dances held at Merigar West at the beginning of September 2016, The Mirror interviewed the Khaita Committee (five instructors for Khaita Joyful Dances) about their role and the type of training they are undertaking.

The Mirror: Can you tell us about this group of five people who are the reference point for the instructors of Khaita Joyful Dances: who they are, what they are doing, and how this group came about.

Adriana Dal Borgo: After the first Khaita exam that was held at Dzamling Gar at the end of March 2016 [see ‘Culture and Khaita Dances’, The Mirror issue 132, p.17], 60 people received diplomas. However, Rinpoche saw that not all of them were ready to teach – some needed more experience and to work a bit more – also not so many people had been expected to come for the exam.

Rinpoche decided that there should be a committee of five individuals to take care of helping people develop their skills to teach. So five people were chosen for the committee, myself (Adriana Dal Borgo) Ludmila Lislichenko, Andrea Bucaioni, Salima Celeri, and Lena Dumcheva, according to our different capacities, as each of us has different qualities. For example, as a Vajra Dance instructor I have more experience in teaching and preparing instructors and I’ve also been involved with Khaita from the very beginning. Luda is also a Vajra Dance teacher and has a lot of experience in teaching. In addition she is a professional dancer and knows very well how to move, how to teach movement and also about music. Lena has dedicated herself a lot to Khaita dances and is very good at learning and explaining. Salima is also very committed to Khaita and is the main instructor at Merigar West. Andrea has more of a cultural and historical background and is involved in the didactic approach to Khaita. He’s also the only man in the group so he balances the energy a bit. We are also all living quite close to each other and it is easy to meet.

We work with those people who are already instructors, although later on we will work to form new Khaita instructors. At the moment we have 60 official instructors. 58 of them came to Dzamling Gar for the exam, and Topgyal Gontse and Tsering Dolker are two instructors living in Australia.

group photo First Khaita instructors training course at Dzamling Gar

Second Khaita instructors training course at Merigar September 2016

Lena Dumcheva: The role of our committee is that we coordinate the training courses. It is not only us teaching something to somebody. Our function is to organize and we try to work with circumstances and our Khaita dancers’ capacities.

The Mirror: You have already had several meetings as a group of five instructors. What are you doing and what is your point of arrival?

Lena: Of course even before the exam, even before starting these trainings, we already had the idea that Khaita is a very multi-dimensional practice.  That it is not only singing and dancing, but involves many aspects. During these trainings it became very clear: we work on movements, on music, on public presentation, on Tibetan culture, on language, on the voice, etc., so we are gradually realizing how complex it is and how much we need to study.

Our point of arrival is, I think, to improve our capacities and those of our instructors in a way that we can represent Khaita in a dignified way, especially to the Community but also to the general public, in this multi-dimensional way and in a proper way.  In other words becoming people capable of representing Khaita corresponding to and being worthy of the trust that Rinpoche gave us when he authorized all the instructors to be his representatives.

One of our instructors, Pancho Company, said that whatever Rinpoche does, he is always ‘brilliant and impeccable’. This is a very challenging arrival point but we are pointing ourselves in this direction in representing Khaita.

The Mirror: With this multi-functional view to Khaita, how are the instructors’ courses structured?

Andrea Bucaioni: I think it’s important to say that this supervision/training is not just an explanation of the 50 dances for the Khaita examination or just an advanced course. It’s more a course to go into Khaita in general more in-depth and also to study some technical aspects.

Khaita dances in the merigar gonpa

Photo by Fulvio Grosso

Salima Celeri: We are working on timing, music, geography, history, language, drajor [the system of transcribing Tibetan developed by ChNN]. All these aspects. For example, we had two-hour sessions with Prof. Fabian Sanders on Tibetan history, geography, culture etc. With Pancho Company and Luda Lislichenko we had three sessions on musical theory and practice. With Stoffelina Verdonk we had sessions on bodywork in order to understand our bodies better and the fluidity of movement etc. We also had sessions with Adriana Dal Borgo about what it means to be an instructor, and teaching techniques.

At Dzamling Gar earlier in the year we had sessions on the use of voice with Elisa Koppensteiner who is a voice training professional. With Ilaria Faccioli we had a session about how to work with children, as  you need a different approach when you work with them.

Adriana: Every day our training is divided into a few sessions, each lasting an hour and a half. We also do group work, dividing our people into different groups each of which prepares a different presentation of Khaita and then we share our work and thoughts. We also consider how we can do presentations of Khaita in different contexts, considering which dances we should demonstrate and what we should say about them. For example, what we say and dance at a presentation at a university would be quite different from a presentation at a school, or a local village festival. So we are working on these types of things.

We are also collecting material, such as Rinpoche’s words on Khaita and about being an instructor and what it means.

Salima: We usually close the last session with an explanation of a dance by our instructors. Every day at 5 pm one of our instructors explains a dance to people who wish to learn it. Afterwards we give the instructor some feedback on how they did and how to improve.

Adriana: On the last day of the course we taught the Dzamling Gar song and dance because automatically instructors have to know how to teach this. However, it is not that easy because it is a teaching so we study the meaning and the movements very precisely.

Ludmila Lislichenko: Today we tried to create a glossary, the language of the dance, in order to explain movements more easily to people. We put together some key words. The glossary means that instead of telling people to do like this and that, demonstrating the movement, you tell them to do a ‘lateral step’ or to do a ‘chasse’ or side step, instead of using ‘right ‘left’ ‘left’ ‘right’ all the time. For example, the glossary includes words such as basic step, lateral step, and chasse, a kind of step where we slide with the right or left foot in different directions.

We are also studying how to have maps of some of the very simple dances. The whole dance is written down and the structure of the dance can be easily explained.

Lena: Adriana found a very nice metaphor, saying that when we teach we work on the level of body, voice and mind, so on this course we are trying to cover all those aspects of body, voice, and mind of Khaita practice.

Adriana: Teaching Khaita is not only showing the steps, because this is very easy. It is not only this. For us as instructors of the Dzogchen Community, teaching is something else. It also goes through our energy and through our minds. It is more complete, so we try to work on these three levels.

khaita dancing in the merigar gonpa

Photo by Fulvio Grosso

Khaita is really the bridge for people who are outside the Dzogchen Community. We have Vajra Dance and Yantra Yoga and, of course, there are some parts that you can present to the general public, but with Khaita you can bring the teaching outside the Community without saying a single word about meditation, practice, or spirituality. You can reach many people with Khaita and pass along the messages that are in the songs: messages of peace, evolution, and collaboration. We can pass along all these messages through dance.

For some years now we have been learning all of these things by dancing with Rinpoche for several hours every day. So for us Khaita is the bridge to take all of these things outside and this is what we have to do through our instructors.

Ludmila: For us practitioners, with Vajra Dance we learn how to integrate peaceful slow movements in our state. In Khaita practice we learn how to work with more joyful and quick movements and integrate them.

First Khaita instructors training course at Dzamling Gar

First Khaita instructors training course at Dzamling Gar June 2016

The Mirror: Your first training course took place at Dzamling Gar in June, and this course at Merigar is the second. Are you planning to do more training courses?

Adriana: Yes, there will be the next one at Dzamling Gar at the beginning of 2017. The first courses were for the instructors but now we will be starting to open up to those who already know or who have quite a strong base of Khaita Joyful Dances and wish to become instructors. This third course will be held after the Yangtig retreat, in January, at Dzamling Gar. On January 5-6, 2017, there will be course on the Dzamling Song and Dance, learning how to read, sing, and dance it, open to all. Then January 8-15 there will be a training course for instructors or for those preparing to become instructors. People who would like to participate should prepare the 50 dances like for the Khaita examination, studying the dances with the tutorials, the training videos, so that they have a base. Then we will have courses to deepen the understanding of these 50 dances to be sure that everyone is moving in the same way, that the movements are correct and so on. This will be advanced training on those 50 dances.

The Mirror: Is there a website where anyone can access the training videos?

Adriana: We have a channel on Youtube called ‘Harmony in the Space’ where you can find videos of presentations, shows, some of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s explanations, and original videos of the Tibetan songs. There are also 98 demonstration videos of different dances being performed by different groups that you can watch and study.

khaita logoThen we have some very good tutorial videos explaining the dances step by step that can be downloaded for one euro each from the Shang Shung Foundation online shop. At the moment we have 35 tutorials available, while the remaining 15 tutorials will be available in a few months.

In addition, we have a google drive folder where we upload all the material that we sing with Rinpoche. Here you can find the drajor (transcription of the Tibetan words) text of each song, the words of the songs in Tibetan, and the original Tibetan video. You can find all 180 songs in this folder which is freely available.

We also have a Facebook page of Khaita Joyful Dances and often if people have questions they can post them there.

At the moment we don’t have a website but we are preparing one which should be published soon. However, we have a page on the Dzamling Gar website with a transcription of Rinpoche’s words on Khaita and a direct link to download the three Mekhor (the three sections that the 180 songs are divided into).

About projects, I think it’s useful to mention that at the moment we have a book with the translations of 108 Tibetan songs which is the first collection that Rinpoche put together and is called “Message from Tibet” and is available in printed form and also as an e-book.

Now we are working with Adriano Clemente and other Tibetologists to translate the entire 180 songs that will be published in three volumes, each corresponding to a metreng (Tibetan cycle of time equal to 60 years), each song with its translation.

Another publication I think is very important will be a book with all Rinpoche’s commentaries on the songs, because since the beginning of Khaita Rinpoche has been translating these songs and each of his translations is very rich, very profound and connected with the teaching. So we are collecting this material and hope to be able to publish it in the next months.

The Mirror: Thank you everyone.

Useful links:

Tutorial videos SSF

Youtube page, Harmony in the Space, with demonstration videos and others

Google drive foldervideos, Tibetan texts, and drajor texts of all 180 dances

Facebook page

Publication of 108 songs – ‘Message from Tibet’

Google drive folder for the basic material for the Khaita exam to become an instructor, consisting of 50 dances.

Merigar West, 6 September, 2016