According to the legend of the Thai people in the northwest, Lac Truong, the chief of the Muong Lo area (in Yen Bai Province today), led the villagers to Muong So area (in Phong Tho District, Lai Chau Province today) to reclaim land for farming and building their hamlets. It was the place where the Xoe dance of the Thai people in the northwest originated in the 10th century.
The Xoe dance was performed by the boys and girls in the hamlets, who held hands to form a circle and danced together. The musical instruments for the dance included gourd lutes, drums, two-chord fiddles, gongs and cymbals.
In the first years of the 20th century, from being a popular dance, Xoe became “a court dance” to serve the chiefs in the northwest. 89-year-old artisan Lo Thi Phe who is the last living dancer of the Xoe team of King Deo Van An said that before Dien Bien Province was liberated, the Xoe ensemble of Muong So area was taken to Paris to perform by the French and won the praise of the westerners.
Today, the Xoe dance has grown and become the common “asset” of the ethnic groups in the northwest. It has become a symbol of the solidarity and cultural festivals of ethnic people in the northwest. The festivals are held every year in Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh and Yen Bai Provinces.
According to Do Thi Tac, a researcher and collector of folklore in Lai Chau Province, the Xoe dance with gongs is the biggest festival in spring of the Thai community in the northwest in general and in Muong Than in particular. The Thai people hold this festival to pray for good weather, bumper crops and a peaceful and happy village. The festival is so famous that it is considered a “Xoe party” because it has many fascinating items like the delicious and strange dishes of a party.
In some provinces including Lai Chau, Son La and Yen Bai there are four areas inhabited by a large population of Thai people, namely Muong Thanh (Dien Bien Province), Muong Lo (Yen Bai Province), Muong Than (Lai Chau Province) and Muong Tac (Son La Province). These areas have the most renowned Xoe ensembles in the northwest.
Visiting Muong Than (Lai Chau Province) in spring, the season of unique festivals of the Thai people, tourists seem absorbed in a joyful atmosphere of the Xoe dance with gongs.
The festival of Xoe dance with gongs starts with the melody of the gourd lutes mingling with the laughter of boys and girls who come from different hamlets. The sound of gongs and drums urges visitors to join the festival. All people, regardless of the Thai, Mong and Dao groups hold hands to form circles and dance rhythmically and flexibly to the music. Seen from afar, the circles in layers, formed by the dancers in their traditional dress with sparkling silver buttons, look like a huge bauhinia flower in the forest.
Visitors to the festival enjoy 36 ancient Xoe dances performed by the girls from Muong Than. These included the dance with flowers, dance with rings, dance with conical hats, dance with fans and dance with scarfs.
Xoe dance is a long-standing folk cultural form of the Thai that is passed down through many generations. Like “Then” tune, “Sli”, “Luon” of The Tay, Nung, Xoe dance is an indispensible spirit food for the Thai people.