Butterfly dance

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The most prestigious, complex, and iconic genre of traditional dance in Quaxin Xun is hàrùchñątmą łepñąą̀ŋ (IPA: /hàɾùt͡ʃɲɑ̃́tmɑ̃ ɬepɲɑ̃́ɑ̃̀ŋ/, or butterfly dance. This dance, originating in the medieval period, is performed by a troupe of dancers for a high-status individual (ranging from a village chief to the royal family) and their court.

Stage and seating

The main audience is the highest status individual, and the main parts of the dance are performed facing them. The audience is arranged in a section of an ellipse around a central stage.

This is an example seating arrangement, with the approximate social standing of the audience members indicated by chess piece rank. The innermost row is seated on the floor, the middle row is seated on low chairs or stools, and the back row is standing.

The stage is typically indoors for all but the most humble performances of this dance. In the largest public theatres in large cities, and in the private stages of royalty and the wealthiest nobility, the stage is a raised area containing a central pit, with a trap door through which stage hands pass props to the dancers as the dance progresses. In less elaborate theatres, the stage is a flat area on a wooden or tile floor in an ellipsoid building or room, separated from the audience with a line (preferably indicated by the tile or wood, but in multipurpose buildings temporarily drawn with chalk or pigment). The humblest theatres are thatched roof huts with a dirt floor, and a line drawn between the dancers and the audience in the dirt.


The butterfly dance is traditionally performed to a yàłurał or "bent" beat, a 7/8 rhythm split into groups of 2+2+3, usually at around 100 BPM.

In most measures, the dancers tend to step on beats 1, 3, and 5, most dancers hold a still position on the last two beats of the measure, and the formation and pose are important for the story. An extra step on beat 4 is not uncommon as well. Because the whole ensemble is still for beats 6 and 7, a character moving then is especially highlighted.

Dancers almost always face the front, where the royal patrons are. This means that for most of the audience, they see the dancers from the side.

The dancer currently in the spotlight carries a flat, wide basket. The basket may be filled with anything from flowers to live snakes, but it is never empty. The basket is held horizontally throughout the whole dance and not allowed to spill its contents. A traditional, and fairly safe, filling for the basket is the patron's house's traditional flower arrangement. A city's public arts institutions may use the traditional flower arrangement of the city instead. Higher status patrons are associated with increasingly dangerous or fragile basket contents, including ceramics, glassware, and (traditionally restricted to performances for royalty) live venomous animals. At the holds at the end of the measure, the basket is almost always held above the head, but on the beats of motion, the basket is either held above the head or the dancer swoops it to waist level.

There are a small number of dancers in elaborate costumes who are playing actual parts in the story, but most dancers form an ensemble representing anything from minor characters to forces of nature.

In the center of the stage, there is frequently a prop pit below a trap door, and using sleight of hand, dancers put down or pick up props, usually with the help of stage hands.

Because the stage has one entryway in the back, most dances start with a procession introducing the main characters.


Butterfly dances communicate an epic narrative consisting of multiple participants. As the focus passes from participant to participant, the basket is passed among the dancers.

Traditional narratives are mythological or related to the founding of the Xuni nation. One of the major mythological themes is the death and rebirth of the sun goddess, rain god, and moon ząm-deity. Another popular theme of pre-Kuulist butterfly dances is the conquest of the highlands by Mirèñą Zamřani.

Since the advent of Modern Thought in Quaxin Xun, public performances of butterfly dance glorify the Kuulist revolution instead of depicting traditional themes.

Especially in their most prestigious form as performed for the royal family or in large Kuulist-era public performances, butterfly dances make use of polynarrativity, a structure in which multiple sets of dancers are conveying independent but periodically interlocking storylines at the same time. In order to remain comprehensible, these narrative threads are governed by rules of narrative counterpoint, which specify the way that these storylines intersect, both in terms of plot and in terms of dance (e.g. the way different subtroupes are staged relative to one another is restricted to a few specific configurations, each of which has particular implications for the interrelationships of the characters portrayed). The most complex dances have 4 different plot threads occurring simultaneously. Audiences being able to interpret these simultaneous stories is traditionally considered a mark of erudition and high social status, especially since traditional performance did not have lyrical accompaniment. In Modern Thought performances, butterfly dance polynarratives are accompanied by lyrics and a playbook, which explain the stories of the workers' struggle and revolution to a much broader audience.


The first accounts of butterfly dances are recorded in the mid 9th century CE. Due to their use of uncovered baskets, which are not traditionally used in the highland regions, the dance is believed to have originated in lowland Quaxin Xun.

The name "butterfly" is believed to be a reference to the baskets of flowers common in a lot of the dances, especially the seemingly weightless glide of a skilled dancer's basket.