Myanmar dance has existed from pre-Buddhist times when nat (spirit) worship was performed with dance. Dance movements were strongly influenced by classical Indian and Thai dance. Myanmar dance is rather vigorous and requires some difficult acrobatic feats. It is also quite decorous; male and female dancers do not touch when dancing together. Young beginners are taught the ka-bya-lut, a basic traditional dance.
An interesting dance is one in which dancers perform like puppets. It has been said that Myanmar dance had to be copied from puppets because the marionette theater had replaced human dancers for a period. The principal female dancer wears a court dress with a bodice and long-sleeved jacket that has stiff curved edges at the hips; the longyi has a train that the dancer kicks out as she dances. Principal male dancers dress as princes in silk longyi, hackett, and white headdress. Other roles include pages, soldiers, zawgyi (meaning wizard). and nat.
The yein is a popular dance at the Water Festival celebrations. It involves uniformly dressed dancers, usually female, dancing in unison. The hna-par-thwar is a duet dance betweeen a male and female. The elephant dance, performed at the Elephant Dance Festival in Kyaukse near Mandalay, has the dancers in a papier-manche and bamboo-frame elephant costume.
The anyein is a combination of solo dancing and clowning by lu-pyet, or clowns. The clowns sing, dance, compose, impromptu speech, and make jokes about current events and various other topics, some of which are quite bawdy. During the intervals when the clowns appear, the dancer rests or changes her costume. Sometimes two or more dancers take turns dancing. The entire performance lasts about two hours.
Many of the ethnic dances are performed with swords or different kinds of drums. Ethnic dances include group dancing in which young boys and girls dance together, which is not very common in Myanmar dance.