The Salang and other sacred dances of the Qiang


Among the Qiang, dance holds fundamental importance. All aspects of their life and culture are related to some form of dance. Each activity has its own dance: festivals, harvests, reception of guests, adoration of the gods, funerals, etc. It has been said that, (1) "The dances impregnate each aspect of the life of the Qiang". They are one of the favorite vehicles by which to express their feelings.

The different Qiang communities of the present time, having lived in isolation from other peoples over centuries, maintain numerous features of their traditional culture. For the Qiang, dance remains an activity integrally related to their history and mythology. Dance serves as a means of expression capable of transforming any act into the realm of the sacred, and therefore is extremely significant. Dance preserves the communal memory of sacred procedures blessed by the ancestors. Any dance, among them, has an important ritual component.

Among the Qiang the number of dances are as varied as the human activities of which they are an intrinsic part. Nevertheless, some authors have attempted to classify them into four basic types (1):

- Joy Dances. These are the most numerous and extended. The most famous is the Salang dance or Yuechipu.
- Religious Dances. These are carried out primarily by shamans.
- Ceremonial Dances. These are particularly numerous, with special characteristics according to the ceremony to which they are dedicated. The dances used in rites of passage are different from those presented to receive guests.
- Meeting dances. These are generally are of a martial character.

The Salang dance

Of all the Qiang dances, the most famous is the Salang. According to legend, the Salang is inspired by those carried out by shamans in the past. Nowadays, sometimes only women dance the Salang, perhaps a reminder of the times in which shamans were exclusively feminine. Although the Salang is considered a dance to enjoy during meetings and festivals, its important ritual components are still evident. Sometimes we see the dancers distributed in a semicircle around the fire, dressed in red skirts.

In fact, this dance is performed in the more important celebrations of the Qiang: major festivals, marriages, and harvest celebrations. Sometimes it lasts the whole night, not concluding until dawn.

This dance is possibly one of the oldest among the Qiang, because it has developed into so many forms, including numerous variations carrying different meanings, related to love, marriage, the harvest, or working in the field. This dance holds a great resemblance with the dances of the Naxi, the Mosuo and other peoples with evident historical relationships with the Qiang.

In funerals a type of Salang dance with special characteristics is performed, in which slow and stereotyped movements express respect for the dead.

Religious Dance

The Qiang shamans, without holding a monopoly on religious dances, should be present whenever they are carried out. These dances include a great variety of forms depending on the function to which they are assigned. Jiang Yaxiong (2) mentions the following as the most important:

- The Dance of the Skin Drum: This dance is generally performed to cure a sick person or during a funeral. During the Dance of the Skin Drum the shaman affects different relationships with the drum, that has now become a means of communication with the gods. Although some of their activities may appear to be simple acrobatics, they maintain an important relationship with the religious beliefs of the Qiang.

- Dance of the Cat. In this dance, as the name suggests, the shamans adopt the posture of cats (a sacred animal for the Qiang) during the time of the harvest. With their movements they try to expel any possible calamities.

- Dance of the Dragon of Rope. The shaman alone faces a wooden-headed dragon with a rope as the body. The movements that he carries out, in a kind of dance-fight with this mythological animal, are endowed with a premeditated ambiguity.

- Dance of the Armor. Evidently of military origin, this dance is intended to represent the departure of soldiers for a battle and their victorious return. It is only carried out during funerals, in order to demonstrate to the bad spirits the protection that the living relatives provide for their dead.

(1) Zhuo Yigeng and Liu Zhisong. - Qiangzu (The Qiang). Nationalities Press. Beijing. 1993
(2) Jiang Yaxiong. - Qiang Dances. In Flying Dragon and Dancing Phoenix. New World. Beijing.

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