The folk dances of the 840,000 Dai nationality enjoy not only wide popularity but great diversity. Most of them imitate the movements of subtropical creatures. The percussion instruments used for accompaniment include elephant-foot drums, gongs, and bronze drums. Different dances have their one special drumbeat and drum vocabulary. The drumbeat is not only the tempo of a dance but a kind of language for people to communicate their feelings.
The dances described below are the most popular in Dai areas. They include Peacock Dance, Elephant-Foot-Drum Dance, Gabanguang Dance, Double Drumhead Dance, Fish Dance, Roc Dance, Egret Dance, Garland Dance, Knife Dance, Rod, Stick and Boxing Dances, Gaduo Dance, Yilahe Dance, Butter-fly Dance, Bamboo-Hat Dance, Candle Dance, Demon Dance and Cock Dance.
Known as Galuoyong, Fanluoyong or Gananyong, Peacock Dance is the best loved dance of the Dais.
To the Dais the peacock is a symbol of good luck, happiness, beauty and honesty. At festivals Peacock Dance is performed by amateur dancers. The dance is based on folk and fairy tales and stories from Buddhist scriptures, or it imitates the movements of peacocks.
Peacock Dance is usually performed by one, two or three people. At the climax of the dance spectators shout, "Wu, wu," and "Shui, shui," with great enthusiasm. The dance has certain fixed elements, such as imitating a peacock flying from its nest, watching with sharp, expressive eyes, strolling naturally, looking for and drinking water, playing in the water, bathing, shaking and sunning its wings, spreading its tail to vie with other creatures, and flying freely in the sky.
The movements of the dance are quite diverse. The most common hand gestures include tucking the thumb under with the four fingers extended close together, "peacock hand" (the thumb slightly tucked, the index finger bent and the other three fingers spread in a fan shape), and the "eye" gesture (the thumb and index finger close to each other and the other three fingers spread in a fan shape to imitate the shape of an eye). The dance steps include tiptoeing and undulating steps (kicking one foot backward toward the hip, stepping back, then stretching and bending the other leg in rhythm).
Peacock Dance takes three forms: peacock, peahen and peachick. The peacock dance is the most popular among the Dais. In performing the dance, the leg is bent and stretched forcefully and the body twists sharply.
The peahen dance is mostly performed by men. the knee is slowly raised and lowered. The dance is graceful and refined, usually coupling a thrust of the chest and a turn of the shoulder to denote subtlety. The drumbeat is slow and light.
The peachick dance features quick shivering movements, steps in a half squat and a light shrug of the shoulders. The drumbeat is quick and deft.
Called Gaguang or Fanguang in the local Dai language, it is the most popular and most typical male dance in areas inhabited by Dais. After transplanting rice seedlings or reaping a bumper harvest, male Dais beat elephant-foot drums and dance in celebration.
Dais are very fond of elephants, which to them are the symbol of diligence, bravery and sacredness.
The dancer carries the elephant-foot drum over his left shoulder and beats it mainly with his right hand; his left hand helps only in coordination. He beats the drum with fist, palm and fingers. Sometimes he also uses his elbow, knee, heel and toes.
Elephant-Foot-Drum Dance is agile, rugged and free. The knees bend in close coordination with the drumbeat. The versatile steps include "stepping forward/back on tiptoe, half squatting," "marking time in full squat, " "stepping with splayed legs, half squatting," and "standing on one leg while kicking, raising and swinging the other leg." There are also all kinds of jumps, such as jumping on one leg, tapping and jumping, kicking and jumping, and broad jump.
Large, medium-size and small elephant-foot drums are used.
Known as Guangbang, Guangliang, Guangshuangla, Guanghong, or Guangmengyang in the Dai language, this dance is popular in Yingjiang and Ruili counties of Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, in areas of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. It is one of the most ancient drum dances of the Dai nationality. The large and small ends of the drum are covered with animal skin. A smaller drum, half a metre long, is hung horizontally on the dancer, who beats it with the palm of his right hand and a bamboo stick in his left hand. The movements are very spectacular, featuring deep squats and sharp twists of the body. The large double-headed drum is one metre long and 67 cm in diameter. It is carried by two people on a bamboo pole. The dancer beats the drum with drumsticks while waving his hand and turning, pulling back one leg, kneeling and squatting. People follow the main dancer with gongs and cymbals. Carrying flowers or handkerchiefs, they sing and dance in a circle.