Yangge (Chinese: 秧歌; pinyin: Yānggē; literally: "Rice Sprout Song") is a form of Chinese folk dance developed from a dance known in the Song dynasty as Village Music (村田樂). It is very popular in northern China and is one of the most representative form of folk arts. It is popular in both the countryside and cities in northern China. It is especially popular among older people. Crowds of people will go out into the street in the evening and dance together in a line or a circle formation.
Some dancers dress up in red, green, or other colorful costumes, and typically use a red silk ribbon around the waist. They will swing their bodies to music played by drum, trumpet, and gong. More people will join in as they see Yang Ge going on and dance along. Some dancers use props like the waistdrum, dancing fan, fake donkey, or litter. In different areas Yangge is performed in different styles, but all types express happiness.
In the 1940s, the Chinese Communist Party launched the new yangge movement where the dance was adopted as a means of rallying village support. The dance was simplified into a pattern of three-quick-steps forward, one-step-backward, pause and repeat. This version of the dance incorporated socialist elements, for example the leader of the dance group would hold a sickle instead of umbrella, and it is also known as "struggle yangge" or "reform yangge".
There are two major types of yangge, one is Stilt Yangge which is performed on stilts, the other is Ground Yangge which is more common and is performed without stilts. Another version of the yangge is the village play, an anthology of which was published by Sidney D. Gamble in 1970, based on transcriptions made by Li Jinghan as part of the Ding Xian Experiment's surveys in the 1930s.
The Yangge drama or Yangge opera (秧歌剧) usually consists of a quatrain of seven stanzas or long and short sentences. An example is the founding piece of the China National Opera when it was founded in Yan'an in 1942, which was with a performance of a Yangge drama Brothers and Sisters Opening up the Wasteland (《兄妹开荒》). The Yangko owed something to normal huaju spoken drama, but with dance, and songs added.
The dance may be in large groups of a dozen to a hundred people, or in two or three-person groups. The dancers move from location to location, visiting different parts of the town. The leader of the procession of dancers is called the santou or "Umbrella" who wields an umbrella to lead the movement of the group. He also sings, usually improvised, while the others will repeat his last line. Various characters may appear in the procession, such as the two comic characters Big-Headed Monk and Liu Cui (柳翠), and the Eight Immortals. The procession first follows the santou in a single file to form a large simple circle, and later then forms other more intricate patterns.
The Shandong yangge is thought to be the purest forms of yangge. There are three major types of yangge in the Shandong province, the Haiyang yangge, Jiaozhou yangge, and the guzi (鼓子 "drum") yangge. In guzi yangge each dancer takes one of five roles - "Umbrella", "Drum", "Stick", "Flower", "Clown" - the first three are named after the props the dancer holds, while the fourth refers to a female dancer.
In Liaoning and Beijing, a popular form is the stilt yangge where the dancers perform on stilts. There are many types of stilt yangge, for example "Jietang" is a group dance performed in the street; "Jiaxiang" involves the formation of a pyramid of different poses; "Dachang" is group dance done in a large open air space; and "Xiaochang" characterized by its love-story plot.
The performers of Manchurian Yangge in Northeast China usually wear traditional Manchu clothes of the area. The movement is free and brisk, imitating the valor of a tribe excelling in horsemanship and marksmanship.
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