For Taiwan aborigines, dance plays a major role in their lives because it represents their daily activities and is a part of various celebrations and special events that pay respect to the ancestors and God. Dancing is influenced by the social and geographical background and helps to understand more about this country and its ethnic groups. That is why, analyzing the dance can help much to learn about its culture and history. I would like to conduct my research on the Taiwanese dance because it is my home country and at the same time I suppose that this performance is very memorable for those who see it. Various indigenous groups in Taiwan have their own dancing traditions, but the dance of Amis people is the most spectacular and sophisticated among them. Nowadays, this dance has become more modern due to the influence from European countries, so I would like to compare the traditional dance with more contemporary performance and analyze its impact. In this paper, I analyzed what have changed in it and if it still has the same symbolism for the Amis people even though it is not the same as it was before. At the same time, I studied the main features of this dance, costumes, why and when it is performed, and the meaning of the dance movements during the performance. The aim of the paper is to analyze the information on celebrations and their meaning for the Amis indigenous group and to identify the role dancing plays in their lives.
Amis People Dance Culture
Traditional Taiwan dance of Amis people is a good example of how dancing of aborigines has become more contemporary to be more interesting to the viewers of the performance, still keeping the symbolism that it had for the people before. Traditional dancing represents the life in this country and peculiarities of its various parts. Historically, there have been 13 indigenous groups in Taiwan and all of them have some different aspects of their culture. Those groups are the Amis, Bunn, Atayal, Kanakanavu, Kavalan, Paiwan, and Tao that live in the country. Dancing has always played an important part in these groups’ life. For them, dancing is a cultural symbol that reveals their daily lives and beliefs (Kim 2003). Moreover, it is an important part of their cultural identity. In brief, dancing is supposed to gather aborigines together as a group and make them cooperate with each other through movements.
It is necessary to understand key characteristics of the Amis dance to be able to analyze and compare traditional and modern types. For the celebration and traditional rituals, performers wear folk clothes in which they sing and dance. Many tourist destinations offer such performance as entertainment for visitors because it is a very spectacular show. To reveal the historical background of the nation, dancing can follow such activities as a sacrifice to the ancestors and a prayer. Moreover, through movements, performers pay respect for the aged people, represent unity and harmony, and express gratitude for the year and hope for the good harvest. They believe that if they have great celebration and dance, it will make their yield in the following season. Amis people are usually dancing in big groups holding each other by the hand. Performing, they all follow the same tempo and make the same moves. They arrange themselves in circles that surround a person who sings, coordinates their dance, or moves around some object important for their culture. People believe that holding each other by the hand in a circle while they are dancing helps to protect themselves from bad souls and keep away from them. In general, the Amis walk, run, and jump during the performance. These characteristics are not very different from other groups, but the Amis dancing movements, music, singing, and costumes are more developed than others.
The Amis people have also developed their dance to make it more contemporary and modern. They have made its modern style more diverse. As a result, the dance of this indigenous group is very famous in the country. This dance is known as the most complicated and varied to compare with those performed by other groups in Taiwan. In the 1960s, the famous dancers who studied in Europe and then returned exerted a significant impact on the Taiwanese dance culture. Such influence led to the changes in the dance moves that were influenced by other modern dance styles. Overall, modern Amis dancing movements are more correlated with music than the dance of other groups in Taiwan. At the same time, its rhythm and tone are much more intense. This dance is still meaningful and symbolic for Amis people even though it has more modern interpretation. Remarkably, singing is also a vital part of the dance. Such peculiarities represent the mix of modern and traditional features that characterize Amis dance.
Watching the video of the Amis traditional performance, it is possible to notice some key features of this dance (“20140823”). For example, everyone is wearing folk costumes in the traditional colors and using music that their ancestors had. They dance barefoot as the Amis people were used to do for many years. During their dance, they shake hands, walking back and forward. Female and male dancers are most of the time separated in groups. However, at some moment they combine, but they never divide into man and woman pairs. Both in traditional and modern interpretations, singing plays a vital role in the Amis dance. In the traditional performance, there is a leading person who sings and another participant repeats after him while they are making dancing moves. During their dance, performers form separate lines for a man and a woman, connect them, and make circles and spiral, doing at the same time traditional movements of legs and steps (“103”). The main idea of this dance is to keep connected all the time, so individuals do not separate to dance improvisation but follow the line holding hands of each other (“台灣原住民阿美族”). Such position makes them feel like a group during the dance. Furthermore, the music pace does not change much during the performance. Traditional performance looks very authentic, and people who take part in it seem to be very connected, feeling as a part of the tribe.
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Furthermore, I watched a video of their more contemporary performance that occurred at the Taipei Station (“2012 01 08”). To contrast it with the previous video, there is a significant difference between them, which can be used to study the changes in aboriginal ancient and modern types of the dance. Due to the changes in the social life, it has been improved to be more corresponding to current life. This performance looks more enriched and adjusted to the modern dance. It is more dramatic and focused on viewers. In addition, the dance seems to be more emotional. A dancer is trying to express emotions and feelings more than the performers in the traditional type. The modern dance is less gentle, but stronger and more focused on the force. Nevertheless, the dancers still follow traditional moves, steps, and hand gestures that are used in the traditional performance of the Amis people. By contrast, modern performers have adapted and improved the dance elements so that the performance can be more spectacular and attractive to the audience. Remarkably, the dance gives a different idea to the person who observes the show. During this performance, dancers wear traditional costumes and dance barefoot. Even though they wear folk costumes that are also characteristic of the traditional dance, they have some additional accessories that make it more spectacular for viewers. For example, the leading dancer wears a mask, and male dancers have spears, and they perform some specific movements with these objects. In addition, women hold palm leaves in their hands as a part of their traditional dress. In terms of music, men and female performers sing separately. At the same time, music sounds differently and has changed in pace and mood. The performers form the same line and circles as people in the first video, but they also have the part when dancers are separated and are dancing individually when their hands are not connected. Moreover, this performance has a dramatic end that cannot be found in the traditional dance. Closer to the end, they bring an object to which they bow, and it looks like they worship it. At the moment when the music stops, male dancers fall on the floor to create a more dramatic ending. Overall, this performance is more entertaining and is much closer to the show than a traditional dance. However, its symbolism and meaning are still very close to the Amis traditions. Modern performance differs much from the traditional because of more dramatic presentation, which is made more for the audience interest, but it still presents this country’s beliefs and traditions.
Nowadays, there are many local dance organizations and events that support dance culture in the country. The most significant are Neo-Classic Dance Company and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. There are also many different celebrations of the Amis people such as Ilisin at Yiwan Village and Kiwit Village (NPTU 1-2). Every year in Taiwan, Harvest Festival is held where traditional Amis dance is also performed. This festival is the biggest one in the country. During this event, Amis people commemorate the ancestors, show the strength of their men, and pay respect to their ability to reproduce next generations. In addition, this is a good opportunity to welcome a new year and a let the past go, encourage young people to behave better, celebrate the harvest, and make unmarried women and men know each other (“地球的慶典#4”). The person who is in charge of this festival is a priest of the tribe who has deep knowledge of their history, calendar, and how to connect with God. Moreover, he leads dancing and some local ceremonies such as a weeding and plowing. This festival is aimed to make people more united; therefore, they dance only in groups, and personal improvisation is not allowed there. For the Amis young people, dancing at this festival helps to find a partner. Thus, when a boy and a girl dance together, it means that they like each other. At the last festival, they celebrated the Night of Valentine’s day where young boys and girls danced around the fire. Young boys had bags on their back, and if a girl put betel in it, that meant she liked him. In fact, dancing helps Amis to communicate with God and their ancestors. These celebrations help young people to learn more about the Amis culture and feel like part of the tribe. The participation of this indigenous group in different festivals and dance support organizations can help to keep dancing traditions, develop more their dance, and pass it from one generation to another.
Studying the Amis dance, it is easy to understand how important it is for the culture of aborigines of Taiwan. The dance of the Amis is the most famous in the country and is frequently shown to tourists because it is very spectacular. As this dance has become more contemporary due to the European influence, it has become more diverse and entertaining. The traditional dance keeps people together, while they perform, holding each other by the hand. The dance still has the same idea to connect the Amis, but now dancers separate and perform individually more often. Celebrations help young boys and girls learn about each other, and thus dancing is a vital part of communication for them. At the same time, they receive deeper knowledge of their culture and traditions. The modern influence has changed the way how the dancers perform and made the dance more entertaining for the viewers. Nevertheless, it still has symbolism for people, representing their culture and history.