Tradition: Considering the dwindling number of traditional folk and mask dancers, local leaders of Trashiyangtse submitted a proposal during the recent dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) to increase the daily subsistence allowance (DSA) of the occupation.

Currently, both traditional folk and mask dancers are paid Nu 150 a day.  The dance troupe leaders, like the dhodham (captain), champoen and chamju (lead mask dancers), tsepem (lead singer) are paid Nu 200 a day. They are also paid an annual wage between Nu 7,650 and Nu 10,200 for preparing and performing for 37 days in a year.

Following unanimous support from the DT members, it was decided that the matter be forwarded to the home ministry. The gups said that the DSA for a dancer is less than the minimal daily wage for the national work force.

Khamdang Gup Ugyen Wangdi, said the practice of traditional folk dancing has waned in most villages. Remuneration, he believes is one prime reason.

“Together with development reaching to the villages, the value of money has dropped,” he said. “There are more and more unwilling dancers as the DSA doesn’t justify their work.”

The gup added that dancers have to compromise on farm activities, their main livelihood, when they leave for practice before annual dzongkhag tshechus.

“It takes almost a month for practicing dance moves, which is also why villagers don’t take too much interest to perform,” he said.

Tomzhang gup, Tashi Dorji said that there were times when finding dancers was not as difficult. With time, some of them have grown old while the younger ones have migrated to urban areas or have been enrolled in schools.

In the early days, he said, men and women would opt for performing in dzongkhag tshechus because they could skip woola. Today, villagers don’t have to contribute their services for developmental works to the government as much.

“And for the few women dancers who chose to stay back stop after they get married because their husbands disapprove to it,” he said. “For mask dancers, earning about Nu 500 every day from construction companies is more lucrative.”

Bumdeling gup, Tshering Gyeltshen said it is difficult to find dancers during local festivals as well. The lay monks in the community though handle the mask dancing part.

“So we randomly pick dancers from the crowd because dances need not be as perfect like during the annual dzongkhag tshechus,” he said. Should the trend of less DSA continue, he added there might come a time, when most villagers would lose interest in traditional folk dances.

Gups further pointed out that Nu 150 is not enough to cover the travel costs alone. It is too less of an amount for those who are also preserving the tradition and culture of the country, they said.

Meanwhile, a traditional folk dancer, under anonymity said that the increment of their DSA has become a necessity as the younger generations don’t follow their footsteps already.

“Is preserving tradition and culture the responsibility of us dancers alone?” said the dancer. “It is high time for the concerned authority to listen to our pleas if we are to sustain our culture, together.”

Tshering Wangdi,  Trashiyangtse