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China Daily Global / 2021-03 / 23 / Page005

A quickstep out of poverty for ethnic dancers

China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-23 00:00

KUNMING-Luo Nasuan is an expert at performing "swing dance", not the jazz-style gyrations of 100 years ago, but one developed by an ethnic group in Yunnan province.

Luo, 29, is a member of a folk dance team in Banli village, Lancang Lahu autonomous county, which is considered the home of Lahu swing dance.

The dance, featuring gentle stretching and neat and graceful movements, has been handed down by the Lahu ethnic group and was inspired by farm work such as plowing, sowing seeds, fertilizing crops, threshing and harvesting.

However, since 2018 Luo has managed to breathe new life into the dance with music and songs specially composed for different dance movements.

Zhang Nasuan, a member of the dance team, said, "The dance and the music are regarded as an artistic expression of our way of life." The crops the villagers grow, including sugar cane and tea, largely influenced the swinging movements in the dance, Zhang added.

But it was not until last year that the amateur dancers were given the opportunity to perform in a proper venue with a stage, sunshades, sound system and changing rooms.

The new facilities were sponsored by Shanghai's Huangpu district, which has paired with Banli to help lift 950 households shake off poverty.

Now, Banli swing dance is the symbol of local ethnic arts and gaining wide recognition.

Thanks to the pairing-up policy and the efforts of the local government, Banli was lifted out of poverty in 2019, and the per capita income of villagers increased from 3,847 yuan ($590) in 2018 to 6,615 yuan last year.

The dance has been modified to include steps that express villagers' appreciation of the government's anti-poverty efforts.

In June, a theatrical company that employs 130 performers, including Luo, was established in the village. They staged more than 20 performances last year, bringing in total income of nearly 500,000 yuan.

"The changes in our life are really great. The first flight I took in my life was due to a performance in Shanghai last year," Luo said.

As spring arrives, farmers in Banli are toiling in paddies, and watching the swing dance performances when they have the opportunity.

Members of Banli village's dance team work in a paddy field in Lancang Lahu autonomous county, Yunnan province. JIANG WENYAO/XINHUA

Members of the team rehearse "swing dance" at the village. JIANG WENYAO/XINHUA

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