Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Wheaton in Bhutan


Culture, Music, and Dance

Posted on August 30, 2010

We had a very busy week.  It was filled with opportunities to learn about both traditional and contemporary Bhutanese culture music and dance.  And, we were asked to perform.

Institute for Language and Culture

On Friday afternoon we visited the ILCS (Institute of Language and Cultural Studies) located on one of the mountains outside of Thimphu, right above Simtokha Dzong.  ILCS is a part of the Royal University of Bhutan (and offers students a bachelor’s degree in Language and Culture.  The goal of ILCS is to preserve and promote the tradition and culture through the study of Dzonghka, Logic, Indigenous Medicine, Arts and Crafts, Astrology, Bhutanese History, and Buddhist Philosophy.  It is the smallest of the RUB campuses.

OutsideWe were greeted by acting Chorten Tsering, who is the current head of the Institute.  He welcomed us and then introduced us to the entire batch of second year students, who were responsible for showing us around. (The dean began speaking to Yuri, who was clothed in kira, in Dzongkha. We were thoroughly amused. Yuri is often mistaken as Bhutanese.)  The students took us to their library where we sat around tables and proceeded to engage in conversation. The small room was quickly inundated with noise/sound and some of the students proposed that we go outside and explore the rest of the school.

DormAtsu and his group sat outside discussing the students’ programs and their post-graduation plans. Yuri explored the girls’ dorms and was rather surprised when she discovered that eight people were living in a room only a little larger than two double rooms in Meadows. Lina and Elana spent a great deal of time in the temple learning about the icons and the students’ daily prayer schedule.  They also visited the classrooms.  And, Sarah met up with her RTC roommate’s sister, who, not only gave her a more personal tour of the school, but also fed her snacks and tea.

PerformAfter spending some time with our personal tour guides, all of us met at ILCS’ music room where some students gave a beautiful performance on their traditional musical instruments.  Teaching usThey then attempted to teach us to play some of the instruments. They had flutes called lingm, recorders, xylophones, and guitars. They also had Bhutanese lutes called Dramnyens, which had dragon-head carvings.

LopenThe professor that teaches the traditional music, LopenYeshey Wangchuk, is an internationally known singer of Bhutanese music.  The students told us he was “a Bhutanese idol”.  We were honored to have him sing two traditional Bhutanese songs for us.  The first song he sang was a Zhungdra, a form of folk music developed in Bhutan in the 17th century. He then sang a Boedra, another traditional form of music that came from Tibet.

FriendsThe students were very friendly and gave us their emails and cell numbers so we could call them if we had any questions.  We left our new-found friends and promised to return to visit them when we go to see the Simtokha Dzong which is right below the school.

Our Dance Performance

RTC has a couple of welcoming rituals.  On the second week of school, the Second Year students had an afternoon when they performed songs and dances for the First Year Students.  Two weeks later, on Saturday August 27th, it was the first year (“Freshers”) students’ turn to present songs and dance to the second year students.

Wheaton students received an invitation to perform at this event before we arrived in Bhutan. At first we thought we would teach everyone the Cha-Cha Slide.  But after watching the second year performance we decided to do something else. Since both Sarah and Yuri knew the choreography to a Bollywood dance each had performed in the past (Sarah at UWC and Yuri with TRYBE), we decided to try that—Wheaton goes Bollywood! We practiced almost every night for an hour or two on the outside balcony at the academic building.  Since it was a partner dance, Elana paired with Devon, Lina with Atsu, Sarah with Raffi, and Yuri with Emilia—our fourth “male”.  We felt awkward the first couple of times we practiced but as we became more comfortable, all of us started to enjoy dancing.

DanceOn the day of the show, the “women” wore a black top with long skirts and the “men” wore black tops with jeans. We were all very nervous because for some of us it was our first dance performance ever! Despite our worries, when the Wheaton students were called on the stage to perform, the crowd went completely insane—calling our names and cheering us on. We were no longer nervous and were now excited to perform, surrounded by the loud cheers from our peers!

The cheers went non-stop before, during and after the performance. Moreover, there were calls from the audience shouting, “One more time, one more time!” Though we did not perform the second time, we were all very satisfied by our performance and enjoyed it just as much as the crowd.

Until next time,

Atsu, Devon, Elana, Emilia, Lina, Raffi, Sarah, Yuri, Bianca and Sue

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