The Passion Of 66 Year Old Tashi And His Last Dance At The Trongsa Tschechu
The lead dancer, Champoen Tashi is a household name in Trongsa.
By Tashi Dema | Kuensel
For the hundreds of people who came to receive blessings from the Guru Thongdroel and to watch the last dances of the Trongsa tshechu (festival) on 19 December, the sight of a 66-year-old man dancing the ‘Choe Zhey’ (a dance to subdue the demons) was a happy one.
The lead dancer, Champoen Tashi is a household name in Trongsa. The Trongsa tshechu had been his ‘show’ for many years. He retired this year as a result of injuries to his hand and leg.
However, Tashi surprised everyone by performing the dance yesterday. Just watching him clad in thick colourful costumes and ornaments while dancing with grace to the beat of the Choe Zhey, gave spectators much joy.
Background of Champoen Tashi
After having served more than three decades as the lead mask dancer of the Trongsa tshechu, Champoen Tashi from Dangla decided to retire.
In a career spanning 31 years, Tashi became the ‘champoen’ within eight years of joining the troupe.
Tashi was chosen from the village after the then Trongsa Thrimpon sent an order in the 1970s to send boys of his age to the dzong (monastery) to learn the cham or mask dance.
Photo: Bhutan Luxury Tour
He was only 15 back then and by the mid-1980s, he was made the champoen. Subsequently, he served as the chamju (attendant of the lead mask dancer) for three years.
At the beginning, the village elders chose him and a friend but the latter decided to return home instead.
Challenges faced in finding mask dancers and female dancers in the past
“It was difficult learning the steps of the mask dance then but the salary of Nu 70 a month was good,” he recalled.
Photo: Bhutan Concierge
In fact, finding mask dancers and female dancers were difficult in those days, as the salary was not as attractive as it is today. Currently, dancers are paid more than Nu 28,000 today for practising and performing during the tshechu.
Tashi’s passion for dancing lives on
Tashi fondly remembered his dance master, whom he said was a good teacher. “I knew every step of every mask dance even when I was a junior dancer,” he said.
As the lead dancer, Tashi had to teach the new dancers and also maintain discipline amongst them. He had trained more than 30 laymen mask dancers.
After retiring this year, he shouldered the responsibility of the lead dancer before the tshechu performance, coming out often in the dance area to ensure that everything goes well.
Unveiling of the thongdrel
Photo: Dragon quest adventure
“My wish is to serve the country, king and people through this role. I pray that the tshechu ends without any problems,” he said.
The father of six is so passionate about what he does that he would often come and help out during the tshechu as long as his body allows him to.
In fact, he had no intention of retiring but he had to as it was becoming too difficult for him to perform because of his injury.
“It is sad that I cannot perform anymore but I am happy that I managed to perform the Choe Zhey this year.”
This article first appeared in kuensel and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.