It is a pleasant morning in Lhamoizingkha, Dagana. At the courtyard of Peldenchholing lhakhang, men are watching Sharman Subba fine-tune his steps.

At his trainer’s cue, the 36-year-old man from Omchhu village of Karmaling gewog, rotates his neck, several times.

He fails and nearly falls to the ground. His friends burst out at the action.

He is not alone.

Twenty eight men, who are farmers from the three gewogs of Lhamoizingkha are practising mask dances for the upcoming Lhamoizingkha annual tshechu.

“I am practising for two dances this time,” Sharman Subba said, adding he likes performing the dances. “It is our country’s traditional mask dance and an opportunity for us to learn and promote it.”

Other than the mask dances, Sharman is also a member of the chipdrel ceremony team. He would be participating for the third time and contributing to the drungkhag tshechu.

Another farmer, Dilliram Adhikari, 35, from Damchuna village of Nichula gewog said mask dances signify the age-old Bhutanese tradition and people should know about it.

A class seven graduate from Daragaon village in Lhamoizingkha gewog, Maniraj Khati, 21, is another dancer.

He said that although some steps are difficult, he could learn it.

Maniraj runs a meat shop when he is not dancing. “If local people don’t continue to learn mask dances, people would never learn.”

Although local men would perform the mask dances, the drungkhag hires trainers from Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) prior to the festival to guide the dancers.

Kezang Norbu, 29, has come to the locality this time.

He said they started the training from January 4 this year. “They are trained and they are quick learners. They are good.”

The trainer said he just would synchronize the dancers to a team with more practice.

Meanwhile, mask dancers said they would be able to save from what they earn daily during their practice if they could get day meal.

When they break for lunch, some from nearby areas go home, while some have packed meals, but few go to the nearby canteen to eat on credit. Some dancers coming from Karmaling also stay at relatives and friends in Lhamoizingkha.

Every year before the tshechu commences, they practise for about a month or more. They also perform during special occasions. When they are not performing, they are back to their regular life but would receive a monthly salary of Nu 1,500. When they practice and perform during the tshechu, they would be paid Nu 9,000.

Lhamoizingkha drungkhag’s administrative officer Gyembo Dorji said the dancers are paid a daily allowance of Nu 300 per day during practise days for their needs.

He also said the mask dancers have improved drastically. “They can dance all types of boe chaams.”

Lhamoizingkha tshechu this year was initially scheduled towards the end of this month. However, it would be postponed to February. “Students and teachers should also get the blessings,” Gyembo Dorji said.

According to a Lhamoizingkha resident, Yeshey, the drungkhag used to hire dancers before. “Now our local people could perform the dances.”

Rajesh Rai | Lhamoizingkha