Miao or Hmong Dance

The Miao, or Hmong, is China’s fifth largest ethnic group, and one of the most ancient. Before the Qin Dynasty, the Miao lived near the middle reaches of the Yangtze River. Today the group is mostly found in central and southwest China. Through the centuries, the Miao diversified further into over one hundred groups, each with its own unique customs, traditional dress, and unique dance style.  The Miao, for example, have more than ten different drum dance styles alone, including one that is performed in water.

Embroidered costumes and elaborate silver jewelry feature prominently in Hmong ethnic dances. In Miao culture, silver ornaments not only equal high social status, symbolizing prosperity and happiness, they are also believed to possess the power of warding off evil.

Miao women drape themselves in ornate silver headdresses, necklaces, and bracelets. They are covered—literally from head to toe—with bells and charms that swing and jingle with the slightest motion. Dancers move to accompanying drumbeats, and the strong sense of rhythm increases the speed and strength of the dancing, creating a jubilant mood. This melding of movement and melody are the hallmark of Miao folk dance, and the jingling jewelry creates a ringing that is infectiously jolly.

The Miao consider big, heavy, and copious jewelry to be a display of the clan’s economic status and esteem. And so Miao dances use movements that fully express the abundance of the jewelry by maximizing the jingling sounds it produces.

Large quantities of heavy silver can weigh down a person, and Miao dance styles have adapted accordingly. Free-swinging hands and hips are a common theme, as is lifting the upper legs first in order to move the lower leg. Other common moves incorporate spinning, clapping, crossing the hands and feet, swaying the head and hips, and small jump-kicks.

Typical dance combinations repeat and swap the main movements. Extensive and fast-paced dancing causes the ladies’ pleated skirts to unfurl into different shapes. Each dance combination is filled with the bubbly energy characteristic of Miao dance.

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