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No tricks in risky sword dance

A swordsman runs his blade across another performer's chest in the sword dance at the SEA Games opening ceremony on December 9, 2009.

The Lao sword dance is one of the world's wonders, featuring a troupe of swordsmen and women known for their incredible skills and ability to resist the razor sharp edges of their blades without drawing blood. The dance troupe is from Vientiane province, about 90km from the capital. During the performance, the troupe cuts banana trees in pieces and dance with their fl ashing blades. One dancer opens his mouth and runs the sword's edge across his tongue, moving the blade slowly and quickly. He then kneels before the audience, places swords against his neck and moves his head up and down between them. But these acts are not magic; the troupe has developed special powers over many years to protect them from their piercing weapons. Over the past centuries this type of sword performance has become a deeply held tradition in Pakkhayong village, Thoulakhom district, Vientiane province. Today it is well-known among Lao people and in recent years the group has been invited to perform in other countries.Lao magicians have long been trying to discover the secret of these amazing feats, but no one has yet been able to prove the show is merely a trick, nor that the performers actually have special powers. Their shows have been closely scrutinized in Pakkhayong village, and it has been accepted that the performers are indeed running razor sharp swords across their skin without injury. One observer even tried to repeat the trick, wounding themselves in the leg and having to be taken to hospital. The sword dance was inherited from Pou (great grandfather) Ang, head of the sub-district of Pakkayoung many decades ago. PouAng lived until the ripe age of 120, passing on the skills he had known as a young man to the next generation, and so the dance lived on. The sword dance originated over hundreds of years ago when a group of bandits crossed into Laos from a neighbouring country, leaving behind them a trail of destruction wherever they went. The Lao people fought against the bandits, but they were better armed, and residents of Pakkayoung village devised the sword dance, ingesting powerful herbs to make them indestructible and causing terror in their attackers. The tactic worked, and the bandits dared not enter the village, saving it from destruction. Since then, with the help of custodians like Pou Ang, the sword dance has grown into an outstanding tradition within Lao culture, standing for defi ance in the face of aggression, which Pakkayoung villagers intend to keep alive for many generations to come.