Cham dance is believed by faithful Tibetans to balance shifting spiritual energies and to remove obstacles for viewers, thereby increasing harmony and peace for all living beings.
The recent course at the Rubin Museum, titled “Experience Cham Dance: The Art of Healing through Movement,” explored this notion by examining Cham costumes and masks currently on view in the exhibition “Becoming Another: The Power of Masks.”
The workshop began in the “Becoming Another” gallery, where we learned about the history and meaning of the artworks on view from Tashi Chodron, Coordinator of Adult and Academic Outreach. Then, after an hour and a half in the gallery, a hush fell over the space as Lama Ugen Rongdrol Palden, our guest Cham master, stepped off the elevator wearing his elaborate Cham costume.
Above his vibrantly decorated vestment with long triangular sleeves, he wore a lion head mask surmounted by a crown of skulls and festooned with ribbons. His elegant Cham movements isolated the body into sectors so that the head moved with majestic solemnity, like a lion; and his arms flowed in smooth waves like water, and his hands flicked like prayer flags fluttering in a soft breeze. After a series of smooth and solemn steps, he would then turn in a circle, pivoting on one leg, and then repeat the steps once again. It was thrilling to watch in action.
After the performance, Tashi told us about growing up in the Tibetan refugee camp in India and being introduced to the transformational power of Cham while there. We then watched an interview on Cham, filmed for the occasion, with Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche, Senior Abbot of Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe, South India.
In watching the Abbot in conversation, the vibrant resonance of this ancient healing mask tradition was wonderfully apparent and left our group with many questions, which were answered by Tashi and Lama Ugen.
At the end of the workshop, we had the opportunity to practice a few Cham dance steps with Lama Ugen. While following our master teacher, we novices flapped about in our attempt to learn. The experience was great fun and one I’ll never forget.
Want to experience our art in action? Check out upcoming Rubin Museum courses and adult workshops.