T'ai Chi Dance

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T'ai Chi Dance- Tiào wǔ 跳

Chee Soo T'ai Chi Dance - Archer position

Chee Soo describes the T'ai Chi dance in The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan chapter 9:

T'ai Chi Dance (Tiào wǔ 跳舞, also known as 'flying hands' Fēi shǒu 飞手) is not a dance as most Westerners would imagine it. It is not normally performed to music but it can be. Unlike T'ai Chi Sword which is based on the 'order of the universe' and the phenomena within it, T'ai Chi Dance has its foundations in the Five Elements and Li energy, the general directions of the flow of these, and their respective colours.
Foot, leg and body movements, balance and graceful flow take first priority in T'ai Chi Dance. Concentration on the complete harmony of movement is absolutely essential if the subtlety of the postures and stances are to be achieved correctly.
T'ai Chi Dance is a beautiful tapestry of motion, gentle in its flow, graceful in its execution, and creating an air of complete tranquillity. Motion and stillness are a wonderful balance to each other. There is also a complete 'form' of T'ai Chi Dance, but it is the baby of all the 'forms' that we do, for it is only about 400 years old.


Etymology

Han character Tiao 跳

跳 (radical 157 足+6, 13 strokes, cangjie input 口一中一人 (RMLMO), four-corner 62113, composition ⿰⻊兆)

jump, leap, vault, bounce, dance


Ideogram Wu 舞

(指事): 無 + 舛 (“steps”) – originally a dancer holding two dangling animal skins, roughly 革 + 大 + 革, with dancing steps 舛 below – see 無#Etymology for earlier forms. 

Top now simplified to 無, and this character is in fact the origin of 無.

Wu could be cognate with wu 舞 "to dance". Based on analysis of ancient characters, Hopkins (1920, 1945) proposed that wu 巫 "shaman", wu 無 "not have; without", and wu 舞 "dance", "can all be traced back to one primitive figure of a man displaying by the gestures of his arms and legs the thaumaturgic powers of his inspired personality" (1945:5). Many Western Han Dynasty tombs contained jade plaques or pottery images showing "long-sleeved dancers" performing at funerals, who Erickson (1994:52-54) identifies as shamans, citing the Shuowen jiezi that early wu characters depicted a dancer's sleeves. [1]

Han character Wu

舞 (radical 136 舛+8, 14 strokes, cangjie input 人廿弓戈手 (OTNIQ), four-corner 80251)

  1. dance, posture, prance,
  2. brandish

Etymological examples

  • Heart Beat (Chinese: 心·跳; pinyin: xīn tìao)
  • The cham dance (Tibetan: འཆམ་, Wylie: 'cham; Chinese: 跳欠; pinyin: tiàoqiàn),[2][3] is a lively masked and costumed dance associated with some sects of Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist festivals. The dance is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments. The dances often offer moral instruction relating to compassion for sentient beings and are held to bring merit to all who perceive them.

Cham dance on Wikipedia

Historical and Cultural parallels

Wu Shaman

Wu (Chinese: 巫; pinyin: wū; Wade–Giles: wu; literally: "shaman") are spirit mediums who have practised divination, prayer, sacrifice, rain-making, and healing in Chinese traditions dating back over 3,000 years.

Wu seal script ideogram - Zhou dynasty
Wu Bronzeware script - Shang dynasty
Wu Bronzeware script - Shang dynasty
The Oroqen shaman Chuonnasuan in July 1994.

Historical and etymological evidence

The oldest written records of wu are Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions and Zhou Dynasty classical texts, but historians have noted difficulties in proving continuity between these sources.

  • The Chinese word wu 巫 "spirit medium; shaman; shamaness; sorcerer; doctor;" was first recorded during the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1046 BCE), when a wu could be either sex. During the late Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BCE) wu was used to specify "female shaman; sorceress" as opposed to xi 覡 "male shaman; sorcerer" (which first appears in the 4th century BCE Guoyu). Other sex-differentiated shaman names include nanwu 男巫 for "male shaman; sorcerer; wizard"; and nüwu 女巫, wunü 巫女, wupo 巫婆, and wuyu 巫嫗 for "female shaman; sorceress; witch".
  • Wu is used in compounds like wugu 巫蠱 "sorcery; cast harmful spells", wushen 巫神 or shenwu 神巫 (with shen "spirit; god") "wizard; sorcerer", and wuxian 巫仙 (with xian "immortal; alchemist") "immortal shaman".
  • The contemporary Chinese character 巫 for wu combines the graphic radicals gong 工 "work" and ren 人 "person" doubled (cf. cong 从). This 巫 character developed from Seal script characters that depicted dancing shamans, which descend from Bronzeware script and Oracle bone script characters that resembled a cross with potents.
  • A woman who can serve the Invisible, and by posturing bring down the spirits. Depicts a person with two sleeves posturing." This Seal graph for wu is interpreted as showing "the 工 work of two dancing figures set to each other – a shamanistic dance" (Karlgren 1923:363) or "two human figures facing some central object (possibly a pole, or in a tent-like enclosure?)" (Schafer 1951:153).
  • This 巫 component is semantically significant in several characters:
    • wu 誣 (with the "speech radical" 言) "deceive; slander; falsely accuse"
    • shi 筮 (with the "bamboo radical" 竹) "Achillea millefolium (used for divination)"
    • xi 覡 (with the "vision radical" 見) "male shaman; male sorcerer"
    • ling 靈 (with the "cloud radical" 雨 and three 口 "mouths" or "raindrops") "spirit; divine; clever"
    • yi 毉 "doctor", which is an old "shaman" variant character for yi 醫 (with the "wine radical" 酉)
  • Based on analysis of ancient characters, Hopkins (1920, 1945) proposed that wu 巫 "shaman", wu 無 "not have; without", and wu 舞 "dance", "can all be traced back to one primitive figure of a man displaying by the gestures of his arms and legs the thaumaturgic powers of his inspired personality" (1945:5). Many Western Han Dynasty tombs contained jade plaques or pottery images showing "long-sleeved dancers" performing at funerals, who Erickson (1994:52-54) identifies as shamans, citing the Shuowen jiezi that early wu characters depicted a dancer's sleeves.
  • Mair connects the nearly identical Chinese Bronze script for wu 巫 (above) and Western heraldic cross potent ☩, an ancient symbol of a magi or magician, which etymologically descend from the same Indo-European root.

Wu-shamans as healers

The belief that demonic possession caused disease and sickness is well documented in many cultures, including ancient China. The early practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine historically changed from wu 巫 "spirit-mediums; shamans" who used divination, exorcism, and prayer to yi 毉 or 醫 "doctors; physicians" who used herbal medicine, moxibustion, and acupuncture.

Wu-shamans as rainmakers

Wu anciently served as intermediaries with nature spirits believed to control rainfall and flooding. During a drought, wu-shamans would perform the yu "sacrificial rain dance ceremony". If that failed, both wu and wang "cripple; lame person; emaciated person" engaged in "ritual exposure" (Schafer 1951) rainmaking techniques based upon sympathetic magic. As Unschuld (1985:33-34) explains, "Shamans had to carry out an exhausting dance within a ring of fire until, sweating profusely, the falling drops of perspirations produced the desired rain." These wu and wang procedures were called pu / "expose to open air/sun", fen "burn; set on fire", and pulu 暴露 "reveal; lay bare; expose to open air/sun".

Wu-shamans and dream interpretation

Oneiromancy or dream interpretation was one type of divination performed by wu 巫. The Zuozhuan records two stories about wu interpreting the guilty dreams of murderers.

Wu-shamans as officials

Sinological controversies have arisen over the political importance of wu 巫 in ancient China. Some scholars (e.g., Eliade 1964 and Chang 1983) believe Chinese wu used "techniques of ecstasy" like shamans elsewhere; others (e.g., Keightley 1983) believe wu were "ritual bureaucrats" or "moral metaphysicians" who did not engage in shamanistic practices.

Chen Mengjia wrote a seminal article (1936) that proposed Shang kings were wu-shamans.

Modern wu

The ancient Chinese traditions of wu-shamans continue in the contemporary cultures of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Popular practices include clairvoyance, fortune telling, exorcism, invocation, and prayer.

Scholars have studied many aspects of modern wu. De Groot (1910 6:1243-1268) provided descriptions and pictures of hereditary shamans in Fujian, called saigong (pinyin shigong) 師公. Paper (1999) analyzed tongji mediumistic activities in the Taiwanese village of Bao'an 保安. Noll (2004) documented Chuonnasuan (1927–2000), the last shaman of the Oroqen people in northeast China.

Jordan Paper summarizes the present-day shaman's religious significance.

Mediums, frequently associated with local temples … are ubiquitous aspects of popular Chinese religion. They are (or at least were into the mid-twentieth century) common from far north in Manchuria to the extreme south of Hainan and Guangtung, and from the eastern island of Taiwan to Tibet in China's far west. (1995:117-8)

Native American war dance

Fancy dance Native American tribal custom

"A war dance is a dance involving mock combat, usually in reference to tribal warrior societies where such dances were performed as a ritual connected with endemic warfare. Martial arts in various cultures can be performed in dance-like settings for various reasons, such as for evoking ferocity in preparation for battle or showing off skill in a more stylized manner. It could also be for celebration of valour and conquest. Many such martial arts incorporate music, especially strong percussive rhythms."

Fancy dance

"During the 1920s and 1930s, Native American religious dances were outlawed by the United States and Canadian governments. Many dances had to go underground to avoid detection by European-American authorities.[2] Tribes created new dances that could legally be danced in public."

Navajo skin walkers

"Totem animals are honoured with their likeness in the dress, dance, music and artwork of the people. The traits and characteristics of the totem animals were thought to be gifted to the people who developed a deep friendship with the spirits of these helpful creatures. Some individuals believed they developed such a deep connection with nature and her "magic" that they could talk with the plants and animals and bring knowledge of medicine and other healing arts to their tribes. These few adepts became medicine men, healers, or wise ones. Medicine men were believed to be able to travel to other states of being, through the gifts of their totem animals. They were said to often be seen wearing the skin of the animal that they believed granted them this power and would sometimes be seen in animal form. Medicine men were believed to be able to travel to other states of being, through the gifts of their totem animals. They were said to often be seen wearing the skin of the animal that they believed granted them this power and would sometimes be seen in animal form. Often ancestors and heroes would be said to appear as animals important or sacred to the family or tribe, or as an animal the individual was known for. People especially reported seeing these strangely human animals when receiving good fortune or divine messages. Some believed they would hear the animals speak to them, act as a human would or witness impossible colors or breeds that do not exist. A medicine man should never be confused with a practitioner of the witchery or frenzy way. In the Navajo culture there is a clear distinction between a witch and a medicine man. Medicine men practice healing arts, blessings and the removal of curses. Any Navajo practising the witchery way is believed to be evil; the intent of such practice is purely to harm others of their own tribe and rarely people outside of it." [2]


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The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan

by Chee Soo

Copyright ©Seahorse Books 2003 reproduced with permission