February 20 marked the celebration of the Jingpo World Manau Festival in Ruili, China. The Chinese government hosted this special cultural event, which brought together members of the Kachin ethnic minority group residing in northern Burma, Yunnan, China and Arunchal Pradesh, India. The festival, which traditionally takes place every year in Laiza, Kachin State and in Ruili, is also the home of the famous Manau dance. Led by traditional elders, Manau dancers move in a circular processional around tall poles, in a “woven” pattern designed to reflect the history of the Kachin people. Over 2000 people participated in this year’s Manau.

Precision in the dance is of the utmost importance. As one young woman participating in the dance explained, “If the elders get the steps wrong, we believe this will bring bad luck to the people for the following year. Therefore, it is very important to dance every step correctly.”

I was fortunate to be invited to take part in this year’s Manau. As I entered the dancing area, heard the majestic beating of the drums, and saw the beautiful costumes of the men and women, I was overcome with awe. Dancing the Manau is like entering another world—a world in which community, history and solidarity take precedence over individuality, competition and greed.

Being part of this celebration was an incredible experience— a day I’ll never forget!