An­swer­ing the call of the tra­di­tional dance

Born into a farm­ing fam­ily in Magwe Re­gion, Wai Yan Aung fol­lowed his own path in pur­suit of his dream to be­come a dancer

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYEIN EI EI HTWE Trans­la­tion by Khine Thazin Han and San Layy

HE was not made to be an agricultural ge­net­ics en­gi­neer. Sweat­ing heav­ily through his make-up, the young man in the vest adorned with a horse’s head waits back­stage, so in­tent he does not heed the crush of peo­ple around him. At the cue, he springs out be­fore the au­di­ence and dances to the mu­sic.

Wai Yan Aung has come a long way from his home in Nat­mauk town­ship, Magwe Re­gion. The child of a farm­ing fam­ily, he fol­lowed the path laid out for him by his par­ents un­til the age of 16.

“I was raised in the coun­try­side. I didn’t know any­thing. I didn’t even know there was an arts mu­seum in Man­dalay,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. But some­thing in tra­di­tional Myan­mar arts called to him none­the­less.

“My par­ents didn’t agree when I chose a dra­matic arts ma­jor,” he said.

In his third year, he was cho­sen as an out­stand­ing stu­dent to take part in a good­will tour of Ja­pan, and when he en­tered a per­for­mance com­pe­ti­tion – singing, danc­ing, com­po­si­tion and play­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments – his mother went with him.

De­cid­ing that Man­dalay did not of­fer a big-enough stage, Wai Yan Aung headed for the bright lights of Yangon, work­ing as a dancer at Karaweik restau­rant from 5pm to 9pm daily. Then he took part in the “Leg­end (Dan­taryi)” en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram in Ba­gan.

“There’s not much of an au­di­ence in the rainy sea­son. I have to go to Ba­gan start­ing in Septem­ber. Now I dance at cer­e­monies that I hear about through con­tacts,” he said.

He is do­ing what he wants to do, though the money is not good, and there is al­ways more to learn. He’s study­ing to sit the tour guide ex­ams, and tak­ing English and Chi­nese classes at the Hledan from 9am to 3pm daily while stay­ing with his aunt in Yangon.

For­eign au­di­ences, he says, ap­pre­ci­ate tra­di­tional dance more than lo­cals do.

“I want to learn English so I can talk to my au­di­ence and an­swer their ques­tions. I don’t think Myan­mar peo­ple are very in­ter­ested in dance,” he said, adding that as a 22-year-old dancer he faced heck­ling. Recit­ing Bud­dhist scrip­tures and study­ing dance his­tory helps him main­tain his in­ner calm.

“I study dance his­tory, dance steps that I need to know and that for­eign au­di­ences ask me about, as well as the books from the cur­ricu­lum that I learned in school. If my friends tease me when I prac­tise, I don’t re­act. I just go and read a book,” he said.

Though he avoids stress, he misses home and calls his fam­ily reg­u­larly.

“I’m sat­is­fied with my life, which is the life I chose. But I still need to learn more,” said Wai Yan Aung.

Some­times he has to re­mind him­self that his life’s dream has come true. “It’s strange that I be­came a dancer. My par­ents were against it even though I knew it was what I wanted to do from an early age. I made it through an ef­fort of will, and now they recog­nise me,” he said.

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

Wai Yan Aung per­forms at a re­stored her­itage house in down­town Yangon on July 10.

Photo: Nyan Zay Htet

Above and below: Wai Yan Aung at home in Yangon.

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

Per­form­ers pre­pare for the July 10 event.

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

A harpist ac­com­pa­nies the July 10 dance.

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