Within the last few months we somehow went from learning and performing a traditional Bhutanese folk dance to teaching salsa classes!
The 5th December 2014 was International Volunteer Day. In Bhutan, various international and local volunteer organisations got together under the leadership of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) to celebrate the day with an event in Thimphu’s Clocktower Square. The event included stalls for volunteer organisations to present their work and recruit more volunteers, speeches, a discussion panel on volunteerism and musical entertainment.
In the planning stage for the event, the question was, what sort of entertainment should we have? An idea was proposed that it could be fun for international volunteers to perform a traditional Bhutanese dance and for Bhutanese volunteers to perform an international (Japanese) dance to promote the cross-cultural aspect of volunteerism. So for a few weeks leading up to the event, Bhutanese volunteers learned a Japanese fisherman dance. And meanwhile, a group of Australian, Thai, Finnish and American volunteers under the coaching of our wonderful Bhutanese teachers, Tshering and Tenzin, learned a Boedra dance. Boedra is a traditional folk dance of Bhutan performed by men and women. For the performance itself, one of the Aussie volunteers was able to source matching kiras and ghos for us from her school’s drama department. And this was the result:
Even though Bhutanese folk dances tend to be very slow and sedate, it’s actually harder than it looks! Despite making a few mistakes along the way we had so much fun and made some wonderful friends in the process!
When our teacher Tshering discovered that Jordi and I danced salsa she was quite excited and exclaimed that she’d always wanted to learn salsa! She asked us if we could run some classes. She found us a venue and “Salsa Bhutan” was born: a 5 week beginner’s salsa course through January and February. Our students were a mix of Chillips and Bhutanese.
Last week we found ourselves back on stage at Clocktower Square, but this time it was our students, performing the salsa routine we taught them, as part of the program of the first ever Bhutan International Festival! This festival ran for 10 days and brought together all sorts of collaborations between Bhutanese and international artists in the fields of music, dance, art, photography, film etc. It was quite an ambitious program for the first one but despite a few teething problems it was a great success and is set to be an annual event. I was really proud of our salsa students who were able to perform what would normally be considered an intermediate level routine after only 5 weeks!
We had to get a bit creative with our costumes, given that it was impossible to buy stretch fabric in Bhutan. A friend had the great idea of making them from a bunch of red t-shirts. The body of the t-shirt became the girls skirt, the sleeve of the t-shirt became the guys neck tie and the collar of the t-shirt became the band around the guys fedora hats!
The funds we raised from the class registration fee will be donated to Camp Rural Urban Friendship (CampRUF) a non-profit organisation which brings together rural and urban youth for camps during school holidays to bridge the ever widening rural/urban divide in Bhutan.
Aside from the salsa teaching, I was also involved with the photography component of the Bhutan International Festival assisting with the curation of an International Photography Competition and 2 outdoor photography exhibitions.
Luckily I still had some time to participate in some of the other creative workshops that were taking place as part of the festival, such as the fashion design workshop. In fact, today I found out that I won the design competition and my design (inspired by a traditional Bhutanese Kira) is going to be made by a Bhutanese non-profit textile organisation!
The festival culminated in the Bhutan International Marathon in Punakha valley. Jordi entered the half marathon and came 7th (out of 117 participants) and was the first Chillip to cross the line (in 89mins). For Jordi’s overview of the event, check out his blog post.
While I was busy supporting Jordi and our other friends who were running, I received a call inviting me to meet the King and Queen of Bhutan! They had requested an audience with the Bhutan International Festival artists and organisers. However, with only 2 hours notice and being a 3 hour drive away there was no way I was going to make it in time! So it looks like I missed my opportunity. I did however, shake hands with one of the Princesses as I went up to receive the certificates on behalf of the Photography competition winners during the festival awards ceremony. I had to learn and rehearse the correct way to bow in a kira to Bhutanese royalty and I think I pulled it off!