Feature: Herdsman dances his way into spotlight
LHASA, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Lhaba was born into a poor family of nine in the county of Dinggye, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Since he could remember, the family depended on merely 0.3 hectares of land and a dozen cows and sheep to live.
"We struggled to make ends meet by eating the barley reaped from the fields," said Lhaba, 32. "It's impossible to make a fortune from the land or herding."
Lhaba had his own fun as a herdsman, even in poverty.
"I would dance on the grassland when I was herding," he said. "Sometimes I was so into it that I forgot to look after the cows and sheep."
Little did Lhaba know that he would become an internet celebrity in China with his distinctive Tibetan dancing skills.
Currently, his account has drawn more than 700,000 followers and about six million likes on video-sharing app Douyin, also known as TikTok.
From a herdsman to a star, Lhaba's story combined luck, friendship, and most importantly, his passion for dancing.
After struggling in poverty for many years, Lhaba decided to go out of his home county and work in a big city, as many of his fellow villagers had improved their lives by doing the same.
In early 2018, Lhaba went to the regional capital Lhasa and started working at a construction site, earning 3,000 yuan (424 U.S. dollars) a month. The high work intensity was exhausting, and sometimes he was burned out.
"My best relaxation tip was dancing in the Zongchop Lukhang Park every week," Lhaba said. "Dancing has always been a huge part of my life."
The park is right behind the iconic Potala Palace and is a favorite place for Lhasa residents on weekends. The park often features a variety of Tibetan opera performances and Tibetan dance shows. Lhaba, a huge fan of Tibetan dancing, became a frequent visitor to the park and often busted his dance moves out in front of crowds.
Compared with local people's dancing skills, Lhaba's moves were more freestyle and had more "swag." His smile while dancing made him popular among local residents.
"He may have grown up in a poor family, but he never complains," said Lhaba's friend Ngawang. "He has a sunny disposition; he is kind and humble, and he spreads positive energy around."
Ngawang is a friend Lhaba made in the park. They had a lot in common, and soon, the friends decided to start a business together.
Before the 2019 Tibetan New Year, they rented a store in Lhasa and started selling Tibetan desserts. In less than two months, they made more than 20,000 yuan.
DANCING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
But the fervor only lasted a while because the desserts were only popular during Tibetan New Year.
Just when Lhaba was considering what to do next, his dancing videos suddenly became viral on the social media tool WeChat. A local resident suggested that Lhaba upload his videos on TikTok.
"You will become an online celebrity for sure; trust me."
Lhaba did not know much about TikTok. So he asked his friend to register him an account and uploaded videos of his daily life as well as his dancing. Clicks on the dancing videos skyrocketed, and within half a year, his followers exceeded 700,000.
"I never knew I could draw so much attention," he said. "I did not know that I would become famous through the park, dance moves and a smartphone."
With so many views, many commercial companies and endorsements began to contact him. In the past year, he was able to visit a lot of places he had never been to in Tibet. Lhaba also performed in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, making about 10,000 yuan for each performance on average.
"Everything happened so fast, and it feels like a dream," he said. "I am the luckiest man in the world; I had an opportunity, and I grasped it. That's it."
Lhaba's biggest wish now is to go back to his hometown for a visit.
"My life has changed so much these days, but I still miss the beautiful grassland."