Thailand celebrates its rich tradition through festivals and art forms like music and dance. Being such a vast nation, each region boasts of a multitude of dance forms, each having its own theme and soul to it. It is highly recommended to catch a show to see artists swathed in traditional costumes, ornate headdresses, and heavy make up performing synchronised dance moves accompanied by music. Though there are innumerable traditional dance forms in Thailand, we have compiled the most common ones that are easy to find while you travel.
Considered an intangible cultural heritage, it is a classical dance drama which dates back to Ayutthaya period in the 15th century. This masked dance drama depicts scenes from the Ramakien (Thai version of India’s Ramayana). What was once performed in the royal courts by only men who played female roles, Khon has evolved overtime to become a public entertainment to be seen and enjoyed by everyone else. The dance and costume are inspired from the churning of the ancient milk ocean performance. The martial arts choreography from Thai sword and pole fighting. The art of narration, singing and musical instruments used for accompanying the gestures of the performance are borrowed from the grand shadow puppet tradition. Sala Chalermkrung Theatre in Bangkok organises one of the most enthralling Kohn performances in the city.
A folk-dance form most often seen in rural areas at village festivals for the entertainment of all ages. Likay can be recognized by its flamboyant costume, heavy make-up, and glittering jewellery. A typical Likay performance includes historic incidents as well as folk tales with lots of humour. Actors sing their lines and are accompanied by an orchestra. What makes Likay unique is the storyline which develops with the performance live on stage, and totally dependent on the audience for content. It is a true test of the actor’s skills to improvise based on the scenario.
Another popular folk dance is ram wong, popularly known as the circle dance. It is characterized by a slow dance continuously moving in a circular manner and incorporating the quintessential Thai hand movements. The Prime Minister of Thailand during the Second World War encouraged his citizens to deal with difficult times of the war with this dance as a form of entertainment.
Lao Kra Top Mai
Agile dancers both men and women hop rhythmically between bamboo sticks to the beat of the sticks and light music in the background. A pair of people holding two bamboo sticks harmonically bring the sticks together and take them further apart to music whilst the performer dances between them without tripping. It is a complete delight to observe how little kids to adults skilfully move to the tunes.
Popularly known as fingernail dance is a form of folk dance where long artificial nails are used by the performer to accentuate hand movements. Originating from northern Thailand, this dance form from Chiang Rai has influences from Burmese music and costume. Female dancers wear six-inch-long brass fingernails to greatly highlight the curved appearance of the hands and fingers as they perform carefully choreographed movements.
These traditional dance forms in Thailand will leave you in awe with the magnitude of these shows, the bright costumes, dancers’ arms and fingers curved in seemingly impossible flexure.