Photo Essay

From the Land of Smiles


For most foreigners Thailand is synonymous with amazing beaches and food, not to mention countless vices for the adventurous (usually single male) traveler. Yet Thai dance is also among the most well-known in Asia. Images of graceful dancers wearing fancy headdresses, jewellery and makeup are often beamed around the world by media outlets, yet very few outsiders know that there are various traditional Thai dances.

There are sundry folk dances which vary from region to region and usually have to do with a local theme--in the Center of the country the folk dances pay tribute to gods while in the North the dancers honor the lucrative silk industry which is concentrated there.

The dance familiar to foreigners is the classical dance originally designed to entertain the royal family (also known as "fawn Thai"). Classical dance is divided into a handful of different styles also: the Candle Dance, the Butterfly Dance, Scarf Dance, Happy Dance and foremost the Fingernail Dance.

One of the main features of Thai dance is its lithe, beautiful finger movements. Thai dancers can arch their fingers towards the back of their hands at an amazing angle. They start training for this around the age of ten. The suppleness of their fingers enables them to convey a rich range of expressions. This is why Thai dance is referred to as the art of fingers. There are many emotional expressions using hand and finger movements such as shyness, shown by placing a hand on the cheek.

The images included in this story are from Hat Yai in Southern Thailand and a traditional dance contest for young local girls sponsored by various major soft drink companies and held in the Center of town on a Saturday night.

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