Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Dance in Himalayan Art

Music Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Outline Page
- Dance Aprons
- Early Photographs of Dance
- Offering Goddesses & Dance
- Masks Main Page
- Ritual Objects Main Page
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Bone Ornaments

Dance Subjects:
1. Iconographic Dance Appearance (Tantra Literature)
2. Dance Depicted in Art (Deities)
3. Performance Dance & Types
4. Costumes & Paraphernalia
5. Performance Dance Depicted in Art

Dance is a common theme in Indian and Himalayan art and well represented in Tantric Iconography - Buddhist and Hindu. A well known form of Shiva is in the appearance of 'The Lord of Dance' (Shiva Nataraja). Many forms of Avalokiteshvara are in a dancing posture as are Hevajra, Vajrayogini, Kurukulla and many other Buddhist deities. The Tibetan teacher Machig Labdron is depicted in a dance posture imitating Vajrayogini. A number of Tibetan biographical paintings depict narrative scenes including dance (Tibetan: cham). The highest classification of Buddhist Tantra, Anuttarayoga, uses common life metaphor and simile as models for Tantric systems. A Tantric form of Avalokiteshvara uses the metaphor of dance to explain complex models, ideas and mnemonic symbolism.

Dance appearance is easy to recognise. Typically a simple dancing figure has two legs, one of the legs is raised up and the standing leg is somewhat curved and pressed to the ground. Males in a dance posture generally stand on the right leg and females on the left. It does become increasingly more complicated as the number of legs increase as with some forms of Hevajra. Dance posture should not be confused for Yoga Appearance where some yogis and siddhas are depicted in a standing posture performing a yoga asana.

The Buddhist Tantric texts speak of nine emotions of dancing, three of body, three of speech and three of mind. In Anuttarayoga Tantra a dancing figure (deity) must express physically these nine emotions through posture, gesture, facial expression and attire. (See the Dance Outline Page).

Jeff Watt 8-2007 [updated 6-2017, 8-2023]


- Matthieu Ricard, 2003. Monk Dancers of Tibet:

- Ellen Pearlman, 2012. Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious and Folk Traditions.

- Berger, Patricia and Bartholomew, Terese Tse. 1995. Mongolia - The Legacy of Chinggis Khan. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum.

- Hedin, Sven. 1934. A Conquest of Tibet. New York: EP Dutton and Co. Inc.

- Jerstad, Luther, G. 1969. Mani Rimdu Sherpa Dance Drama. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

- Lhalungpa, Lobsang, P. 1983. Tibet- The Sacred Realm. New York: Aperture, Inc.

- Mele, Pietro Francesca. 1975. Tibet. New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co.

- Miller, Luree. 1987. The Black Hat Dances - Two Buddhist Boys in the Himalayas. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

- Paul, Robert, A. 1982. The Tibetan Symbolic World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

- Waddell, Austine, L. 1972. Tibetan Buddhism. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Cham & Dance Links:
- Invisible Twice: A Lost Dance Mural By Joseph Houseal | 2016-12-09
- Finding Excellence, Part 1: Of Course They Don’t Talk About It By Joseph Houseal | 2016-07-22
- Finding Excellence, Part 2: A Tradition of Transmission By Joseph Houseal | 2016-08-19
- Finding Excellence, Part 3: Who is the Best Dancer Here? By Joseph Houseal | 2016-09-15
- Finding Excellence, Part 4: What Buddhists Do By Joseph Houseal | 2016-10-14
- Self-Expression of the No-Self By Joseph Houseal | 2016-02-05
- When Dance Transforms By Joseph Houseal | 2016-06-24

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).