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An'o

"An'o" simply means dance, but it is specifically used to refer to a variety of traditional Stenza dances thought to originate from Lan'tha in Her capacity as Bringer of Honor. These dances are used as a teaching tool in the Stenza education system, helping communicate history, theology, and culture.

History

An'o is arguably older than Khe'drakha poetry, and some theorize that the use of chant in an'o led to the development of the Stenza language more broadly and the khe'drakha form more specifically. Like poetry, an'o was developed by clans, worked on as the clans interacted with one another.   An'o as a widespread dance developed out of its uses in Stenza shamanism and religion, first being used to honor the gods and then over time taking on the ability to honor Stenza war heroes and other great men and women. Clans developed stylistic differences between themselves which they retained through the Unification of Clans, especially in the early years where many feared clan identity would fall under threat. An'o did not face the argument of writing anything down due to its physical nature, but the movement of "ancient" dance during the early Unification period had a similar effect, allowing an'o to persist into the present day.   The dance's use for honoring notable figures and gods flows logically into its long-time use in celebration: of First Sunrise, of any given general's great victories, of a leader's triumphs, and so on. Following Unification, dances, like poetry, are performed at competitions and festivals during the summer months, although a few are held amidships for High Winter.   An'o has gradually morphed within and between clans, being given somewhat more cultural leeway than khe'drakha poetry and also recognizing the need for some flexibility in expressing concepts as they are developed, which were not part of the original symbolic language (such as subspace and faster-than-light travel, or life on other worlds...or conquest of other worlds, for that matter). Modern an'o, while still recognizable to ancient Stenza, would cover seemingly impossible feats by their standards.

Execution

For the Gods

  The "stereotypical" Stenza dance is actually reserved for prayers and the celebration of holidays; the exemplar of the latter is They Love Each Other and They Love Us, danced along a track by two or more people tracing an intricate pattern designed to be a mimicry of the Suns' movement through the sky. These sorts of dances require a lot of space and place an emphasis on traveling steps and movement of the hips. When someone prays, they may move back and forth across an area (religious experts trace patterns all over the summits of mountains).   Dances for religious purposes are always accompanied by chanting to declare intent (i.e. to interpret some sign or to give praise).  

Battle Dances

  Stenza have a wide variety of battle dances, and the history of their significance reflects the history of the Stenza's changing relationship to conflict. Like war songs, they have their origins in inter-clan wars over assorted resources, and served similar functions (such as rallying allied forces or attempting to shake the nerve of the enemy). The Battle with the Stone Menace and subsequent formation of the Unified Stenza Clans transformed their significance. However, unlike war songs which were used to highlight clan rivalries, battle dances took on both a commemorative element and a sense of "showing off".   Stylized battle dances are often conducted over or with weapons of all sorts, singly and in groups, and are usually done to commemorate great victories (many of these are highly clan-specific) or demonstrate physical ability and stamina. The emphasis here is on footwork, and the general rule is to not disturb the weapon on the floor (the exception is  common in the Northern Mountains and involves a concluding flourish by kicking the weapon into the hand).  

Partner Dances

  Besides They Love Each Other and They Love Us and the repertoire of group and partner battle dances, there exist a number of dances done by pairs of blood siblings or actual married couples, which commemorate their lives together and shared triumphs. This is the most improvisational category of Stenza dance and may incorporate elements from other genres (typically battle dances, but religious dances are not unheard of).   Partner dances between blood siblings have had an interesting and sometimes controversial history, especially around the period of the Unification of Clans as virtually everyone was engaged in the struggle to balance their old identities with the changing political landscape. Blood siblings across clan lines had to work to negotiate dance styles and customs, resulting in often janky mashups that reflected the social landscape of the time.

Components and tools

The traditional drum is typically composed of rib bones (typically from Basket Horns or any other large fauna) wrapped in leather, with a rough hoop made from sinew and a soft hide for a drum head. The best drums of this type are roughly half the size of an adult man.   The costume for ritual an'o is a takhasar, a collection of thick ribbons which hang from a belt about the waist, just above the pelvis. The ribbons are each reinforced with mineral constructs which resemble spines, in part for the sound this makes during the performance. The takhasar is accessorized with bones. Usually each performer has taken the bones themselves from recent kills, but sometimes (particularly for younger dancers) these are gifts from older members of the clan. These also have value for the sound they make during the dance, outside of their symbolic meaning related to Facial Decoration.   For battle dances, weapons are allowed and encouraged, although rules are not set as to which ones, and how they are to be used in the dance. There is a joke that battle dances can be (or have been) done with cooking utensils.

Footnotes

  Musical inspiration: Taiko Drums (and, more importantly, the genre of Hardstyle)   Dance inspiration: Merrie Monarch 2009 - Halau Hula O Hokulani - Wahine Kahiko
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