What are the zhey dances in Bhutan?


There are a fixed number of steps in each dance, and each step has its own significance.

“Zhey” literally means “dance”, referring to a traditional folk dance of Bhutan. There is singing and dancing to tunes of rapid rhyme. Throughout the performance, the movements are rigorous and the dancers take firm steps as they gradually increase in pace. 

There are a specific number of steps to take, and each step has its significance.

Zhey is performed by only the men. 

The history of zhey dances

Legend has it that Tshangpa Jarey, the founder of the Drukpa Kagyu sect, wanted to build a Drukpa temple. But there was a demon in the form of a tortoise at the site, setting him back on the work. It was frustrating. Thus, he created a song and dance known as zhey.

In the song, he claimed to be the son of Pelden Drukpa and therefore unbeatable. With the zhey, he defeated the demon and completed the temple.

The great Lama Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal first fled to Bhutan from Tibet in 1616. Upon arriving at the northern border at Gasa, he was welcomed by the local Bhutanese, who performed zhey as a mark of their devotion.

And zhey has been a part of Bhutanese tradition since.

Variations of the zhey dance

Different districts in Bhutan have their own version of the zhey dance.

The basic themes of the zhey in different districts are more or less the same, but there are small differences like the dress code and dance steps. The 4 main zhey styles are:

  • Goen Zhey (Gasa)
  • Wang Zhey (Thimphu)
  • Nub Zhey (Trongsa)
  • Wochubi Zhey (Paro)

Apart from those 4 main districts, other districts have also developed their own zhey, although some are no longer practiced:

  • Ngayngbi (Bumthang)
  • Kabjisa Zhey (Punakha)
  • Do Zhey (Paro)
  • Kawang Zhey (Thimphu)

Zhey dance steps

Each zhey has its own characteristics — number of dancers, dance steps, dress code, etc — as we’ll see soon.

Included is a sample of the Goen Zhey dance steps. The other zhey, although not included here, have similar moves.

Goen Zhey (Gasa)

This is the original and oldest version of zhey, performed to receive the Lama Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal upon his arrival to Bhutan.

The significant verses of the song welcoming him are:
From the east, there always rises a sun; but the sun
that rises today is much warmer.
From Tibet, lamas have always come; but the lama
who comes today brings more blessings. 

Number of dancers: 21 
Number of steps: 13
Dance steps: 

1 -  Sa-chak, dedicated to the initiation.
2 -  Chak-tshelma, dedicated to commemorate spiritual teachers, deities, and ancestors.
3 -  Shar-pharley-thridu, dedicated to guests of the occasion. 
4 -  Tshopa-namyang-tshok, dedicated to the gathering.
5 - Norbu-dungkar, acknowledging the preciousness of conch in Buddhism.
6 - Tsel-sum-pa, dedicated to the three powerful forces: sky, sun, and rays.
7 - Zhuk-drel, dedicated to the excellence of the assembly line.
8 - Pa-tsha, dedicated to the usefulness of the cane.
9 - Chamshok, dedicated to the dance itself.
10 - Jachen-ngangpa, dedicated to the giant swan.
11 - Meto-kumud, offering of lotus and water to the deities.
12 - Thridu-nyima-jugjug, dedicated to the wellbeing of the spiritual teachers, deities, and ancestros. 
13 -  Chaluk-lekchi-chaluk-lek, concluding prayer.

Dress code: The lead dancer wears a chamok (helmet) and colourful scarf. Meanwhile, the others wear a kopak (headband) and a plain white scarf. Each dancer wears a red woolen gho (robe), black tego (undershirt), yuelham (traditional boots), and a pata (sword).

Wang Zhey (Thimphu)

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s followers performed this dance when he just arrived in the Thimphu valley. 

Number of dancers: 12
Number of steps: 14
Dress code: Dancers are bare-headed. They wear gho made of raw silk which signifies the sovereignty and independence of Bhutan. They also wear a silk meyo (knee-length skirt) which points to protection against negative influence. Each dancer carries a kabney (white scarf) as a sign of respect to the Lama. On their foot is dralham (traditional boots made of leather and silk), which represent subduing the enemies of the country. Around their head is a headband of 5 colours, also made of silk, to signify spreading the Lama’s blessings to all mankind.

Nub Zhey (Trongsa)

The people of Jee village perform Nub Zhey for the local deities. The people of the village speak Zha ked, which led to the name of their zhey, Nub Zhey. 

Number of steps: 22

Dress code: The dancers wear a red gho which symbolises devotion to Buddhism. A blue tego signifies the medicinal herbs in the country. Meanwhile, they also wear a khamar (white kabney with a red/white/blue stripe down either edge) which represents the vow of adherence to the precepts. Ko Ilham (traditional knee-length boots) for the ability to bring all the eastern regions under control. Dungkar-gi along (conch shell finger ring) signifies victory over the invaders. Last but not least, a thoe (ring-like headband) for the Lama’s teachings.

Wochubi Zhey (Paro)

This version of zhey was introduced by the people from Wochu of Dzongdrakha monastery.

Number of steps: 18
Dress code: The dancers wear a headband made of green leaves, black tego, khamar, and yuelham. Their dressing symbolises a pigeon.

Witness a zhey!

Zhey is performed on special occasions like the tshechu or traditional ceremonies. 

Of course, there is nothing like watching a performance for yourself. So travel to Bhutan to witness:

- Goen Zhey at Gasa Tshechu 
- Nub Zhey at Trongsa Tshechu
- Wochubi Zhey at Paro Tshechu

Related Posts

What are the types of traditional dances and music in Bhutan?

In general, there are three classifications of Bhutanese classical and contemporary performance - Zhungdra, Boedra and...

Jan 17, 2021 20:27

What are the traditional sports of Bhutan?

The Bhutanese have a variety of traditional sports. Some test your aim and skills, whereas with others, it’s about pure...

Jul 13, 2021 11:15

What are the personalities of the 12 zodiac signs?

For Bhutanese, rituals and auspicious timing are part of daily life. When we want to achieve a certain goal, conducting...

Oct 14, 2021 11:18

Torma, the multipurpose Buddhist ritual cake

“Tor” represents detachment from desires, whereas “Ma” refers to the maternal.

Oct 04, 2021 14:50

The significance of offering seven bowls of water

The 7 bowls signify respectively: water for drinking, water for washing, flowers, incense, light, perfume, and food.

Sep 27, 2021 11:32

The different types of prayer wheels in Bhutan

You'll find prayer wheels all over Bhutan. Inside each prayer wheel is a tightly rolled-up scroll of mantras. Spinning...

Sep 02, 2021 11:22



Bhutan is tapping into solar energy with its first grid-tied solar power plant

Electricity in Bhutan is mostly generated from hydropower, a renewable energy source, unlike fossil-fuel driven power plants that are major...

Oct 05, 2021 16:17

Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck donated much needed medical equipment to the hospitals in Bhutan

Access to quality healthcare services is of utmost importance to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sep 30, 2021 13:50


Bhutan is home to one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world

There is even a festival for it, known as the Matsutake Mushroom Festival. There, you’ll get to sample various dishes prepared with this...

Sep 24, 2021 16:10

Guru Rinpoche, the legendary saint who spread Buddhism in Bhutan

He was born from a lotus, fully enlightened. He went on to become the patron saint of Bhutan and established the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.

Sep 17, 2021 13:28


Yathra weaving, the uniquely Bumthang culture

Unlike other places in Bhutan, the people of Bumthang don’t do agricultural work. Instead, they weave yathra products. Traditionally, every...

Sep 13, 2021 17:06

What are the entrepreneurship programmes and initiatives available in Bhutan?

The Bhutanese government has introduced all kinds of initiatives to promote entrepreneurship. Even school kids are groomed to innovate,...

Jun 22, 2021 16:37


Paro FC reclaimed its champion title for BoB Bhutan Premier League 2021

Bank of Bhutan (BoB) Bhutan Premier League 2021, previously known as Bhutan Premier League (BPL), the top football tournament in Bhutan...

Oct 02, 2021 19:57

Bhutan makes its debut appearance at the Paralympic Games

There is much to celebrate in the sporting history of Bhutan.

Aug 16, 2021 11:50


Travel to Bhutan: experience the beauty of Punakha

Punakha district is easily one of the tourists' favourite valleys.

Sep 07, 2021 15:44

How should I dress in Bhutan?

About to head to Bhutan for the adventure of your lifetime but don’t know what to pack? Fret not. Here’s a guide of useful clothing items to...

Sep 06, 2021 11:49


What are the personalities of the 12 zodiac signs?

For Bhutanese, rituals and auspicious timing are part of daily life. When we want to achieve a certain goal, conducting the event at a...

Oct 14, 2021 11:18

What are the zhey dances in Bhutan?

There are a fixed number of steps in each dance, and each step has its own significance.

Oct 08, 2021 13:09


Bhutan is leading in the vaccination race

“Bhutan is now a beacon of hope for the region, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives and devastated families." - Dr Will...

Jul 28, 2021 12:01

Bhutan, with a leading vaccination rate in the region, commenced its second vaccination drive

Bhutan's second nationwide vaccination campaign will be held from July 20 - July 26, 2021.

Jul 21, 2021 11:05

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!