Famous ancient dance relives or lives again

“Con di danh bong”, a cross-dressing double act dance has been restored at the Hao Nam ancient village’s festival in Hanoi after over a half a century. The dance has also been performed every Saturday night at the free stage in front of the Dong Xuan Market.

Bong is a kind of drum while Con di means tarts, so Con di danh Bong literally means “tarts beating the bong drums”!

If the dragon dance is performed in a procession, the Trong Cai (Big Drums) go first and the dragon dance follows. Mua Bong can be performed at the front, back or in the middle of the procession.

Only elderly people who have lived an unblemished life and are respected by the villagers are given the honour to beat the drums and only strong men can lead the dragon or unicorn’s head while more nimble people are responsible to hold the dragon’s tail or the banners.

But those involved in the Con di danh Bong must simply be men brave enough to dress up in women’s traditional attire! The two men will also have handkerchiefs on their head, embroidered shoes, colourful ribbons on their back, bamboo fans in their hands and drums in front of their chest.

The men use halves of plastic balls, which are stuffed with cotton, as fake breasts. This ceremonial cross-dressing is as funny as you might imagine.

The ancient dance returned for the first time at the Hao Nam village’s festival 2009, which took place on March 8-9. Local people nearly died laughing when they saw four men dressed as women dancing at the yard of the village temple.

“Con di danh bong” was one of the ten invaluable ancient dances of Hanoi. Some ancient villages like Dong Nhan, Nhat Tan, Quang Bi and Dai Lo have also restored this dance, but the dancers are women or men. They also deleted the words “Con Di”, afraid of impoliteness. Only Trieu Khuc and Hao Nam still maintain the cross-dressing dancers and the original name of the dance.

Nguyen Van Trang, chief of Hao Nam Relics Management Board, said that it took the village twelve years to restore this ancient dance, under the assistance of an artisan from Thu Le village and experts from the Centre for Vietnamese Music and Art Development.

For several months, Hao Nam Temple’s yard was busy every night with a group of men practicing “Con Di Danh Bong”. Thanh Tu, an amateur dancer, said: “It is very difficult! This is the first time I dance as a woman. But it is very interesting. This dance is really lovely!”

Musician Thao Giang, deputy director of the Centre for Vietnamese Music and Art Development, said: “It (the dance) looks very simple but it is very difficult for dancers. I had to invite Trong Hap to train them”.

Trong Hap is a folk dance choreographer, a former dancing lecturer at the Army’s Art University. After retiring, he went to HCM City. He came back to Hanoi to teach Hao Nam village’s amateur dancers."I saw this dance when I was a boy. This is both an entertaining and a spiritual dance,” he said.

After a period of practicing and testing, only four people were chosen to perform the ancient dance at the Hao Nam Temple Festival, including three young boys named Lam, Manh, Tu and artist Trong Hap.

This ancient dance is performed at the stage in front of the Dong Xuan Market every Saturday. This is one of the events of the celebration of the 1000-year-old Thang Long – Hanoi.

Vietnamplus/ VietNamNet