Tibetan hip-hop dancer keeps his roots in mind
Updated: 2011-07-23 17:19
LHASA, July 23 - During the weekend Sonam Tseten joins thousands of pilgrims to pray at the sacred Jokhang Temple in downtown Lhasa. He is by no means different from other Tibetans living in the city.
Back at his house, however, when putting on his baggy trousers and switching on the pop music, he becomes the one with whom most Tibetans are unfamiliar: a hip-hop dancer.
"I've been dancing for 13 years," said the 27-year old.
Sonam Tseten left Tibet for the first time in 1997, when he was 13 years old. He went to southwest China's Chongqing Municipality to attend middle school.
"At that time, the only foreign pop star I knew was Michael Jackson." But in Chongqing, he heard more foreign songs, like those from the famous American group Backstreet Boys and the South Korean H.O.T.
"I heard the music in the street, and it made me feel like rocking."
Like some other teenagers, Sonam Tseten bought many DVDs, and followed the movement on MTV to learn hip-hop moves.
In 2003 he entered Hebei Normal University, where he organized dance lovers, all of whom Tibetans, to form a group which they called "Golden Peak." "Many Tibetan temples have golden peaks," Sonam Tseten said. "I wanted the name to be Tibetan."
They trained regularly, and performed in pubs to earn money.
Three years later, they won a hip-hop dancing championship in Hebei Province, and came second place for the whole of China.
After graduation, he went back to Tibet, where he formed another group, the "Dynasty of Tibet."
In his spare time, Sonam Tseten teaches kids hip-hop moves. He and his fellow instructors have now about 60 students, with the youngest being seven years old.
"In Tibet many children love hip-hop because they say 'it's cool,' but some of their parents were opposed to it at first. They considered the dancing outfits too strange," he said.
But after they saw more and more hip-hop contests on TV, they gradually accepted it, Sonam Tseten said.
"After all, it's a good way of encouraging physical exercise, and could help foster people's perseverance and cooperative spirit."
The young man sometimes composes dance himself. "I deliberately add some Tibetan elements to it," he said. "For instance, I use Tibetan music, and alter the traditional Tibetan robes into dancing costumes."
Now each year Sonam Tseten's group hosts hip-hop dancing contests among Tibetans. "This year we're planning to invite groups from the neighboring Qinghai Province," he said. "Next year maybe we can include groups from Sichuan."
MODERNITY AND TRADITION
Sonam Tseten said his great grandfather was a general of the 13th Dalai Lama, and his great grandmother was from a noble family.
"I have strong religious piety," he said. Each time before a dancing contest, he said he prays in front of a Buddha.
Talking about modernity in Tibet, Sonam Tseten said he believed that it is an unstoppable trend, although even now many people still have little knowledge of Tibet, which has led to a lot of misunderstandings.
"Tibet is not in a cage," said Tubdain Kaizhub, a professor from Tibet University. "It needs to accept the advanced culture from the world as well."
But both the scholar and dancer agreed that traditional culture of Tibet should be preserved.
Efforts have been mounted by the government in this respect.
The study, use and development of the Tibetan language are protected by law.
Temples and other religious site has been renovated by the government, and Tibetan opera and the famous Legend of King Gesar have been put on the World Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Some young people took it as their task to promote Tibetan culture, like Shipek Dorje.
The 20-year-old boy was from the Palgon County of Nagqu Prefecture on the vast western Tibetan prairie.
"I love Tibetan songs," he said. "My parents are herders and I grew up in their songs."
He is now a student with the Lhasa normal vocational school, majoring in music.
"With the development of Tibet, the unique ethnic culture of the region is attracting world attention, and some of my friends from the Han nationality are beginning to learn the Tibetan language," he said.
"My biggest dream is to introduce Tibetan music and songs to more people, especially to those from foreign countries," he said.