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Yangge
    2007-02-05 11:42:25     CRIENGLISH.com
During the winter season, people in villages in northern Shaanxi perform yangge to greet the Spring and Lantern Festivals.

Yangge originated 2,000 years ago as a religious activity to greet gods and dispel evil, but now it is a recreational activity during the harvest or for holidays.

In northern Shaanxi, as the saying goes, once the gongs and drums sound, throats will itch and people begin to prepare for entertainment as soon as spring comes. At Spring Festival, after eating jiaozi, yangge groups begin paying New Year calls to households. They wish the hosts a happy New Year and perform yangge in the courtyards. Accompanied by drums, they wave red silk waistbands.

The hosts set off firecrackers to welcome the dancers' arrival and invite them to taste their homemade rice wine. The sounds of songs, drums and firecrackers blend, creating a festive atmosphere in the village.

It is said Yangge first began during the Song Dynasty around 1,000 years ago. It was originally a sun dance. According to this rendition, Yangge originated from this activity, sacrificing to land god.

It is also called "celebration" or "celebrating prosperity" in some places. At first, it was mainly men who performed it wearing women's clothing. However, with the development of the times, women have also joined in. Men and women wear colorful clothes. The men wrap their heads in towels, while women hold handkerchiefs in their hands.

Yangge is performed by both large and small groups. There are also some prop dances, including lion, dragon lantern and water boat dances. The small-scene Yangge is also called kicking scene and involves groups of two, four and eight dancers.

The movements of Yangge are rich, bold, natural and unrestrained, embodying the simple, honest and optimistic character of northern Shaanxi people. The traditional large Yangge is performed by first dancing, then stopping to sing, while the crowd shouts "Dance to the beats, sing following the beats and dance."

The main dancer in large Yangge is called umbrella-leader with an umbrella in hand. Once the gongs and drums sound, the leader will lead the Yangge team to perform by varying the formation. The most popular one is the Caimenzi Yangge. The Yangge group must go through a colorful door. The group on the other side comes to meet them. When two groups meet each other, they will verbally spar with the other by asking and answering. As long as the visiting team answers correctly, they can go into the village.

The performing procedure is always like this: the umbrella-leader first sings and the performance by him or her is always improvisational. The gongs and drums are played between the singing. The crowd sings the last lyrics together.

In the new Yangge movements of the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Area in northwestern china, the traditional Yangge was improved and enhanced. The umbrella-leader holds a wooden sickle and ax in hand. This image has been changed into a worker-farmer symbol. Yangge dramas with new content were also created, such as Brother-and-Sister Cultivating Wasteland and Husband-and-Wife Learning Chinese Characters.

The waist drum dance is the most interesting part of a large-scene Yangge. A large group of dancers with red drums tied to their waists hold drumsticks with red silk, beating the drum while dancing. The rhythmic drum sound and graceful dance show the straightforward and uninhibited character of villagers in northern Shaanxi province. It's an expression of their happy and passionate feelings. Their costumes are decorated with the designs of ancient bronze wares. They dance back and forth, jumping from time to time, to the drums just like soldiers fighting each other.

Nowadays, citizens in northeastern China perform Yangge everyday, especially the elders. They dance and sing every morning in the park or on the city grounds as much as they like. They think it's a good way for them to keep fit.
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