[Photos by Lauren DeCicca]
Greg Hamilton lists the reasons chinlone is the wrong activity for him. There are his physical limitations: a bone growth on his neck, flat feet and a snapped Achilles tendon that make it sometimes painful to perform the dance/hackysack hybrid that is something of a national pastime in Myanmar. There are the geographic obstacles: he lives in Toronto, about 8,000 miles away from Myanmar and his fellow chinlone practitioners. When he’s at home, instead of passing a woven bamboo ball around a circle with five other barefoot players in the tropical sun, Hamilton juggles the ball on his shoes alone in the snow.
But then, there are also the reasons chinlone is right for him. It has a peaceful, meditative quality that calms the anger inside him. There’s the cooperative element that seems to counter the hyper-competitiveness of modern society. Part art, part sport, part dance, chinlone is difficult to pin down. It involves six players in a circle performing acrobatic moves aimed at keeping the ball off the ground. It is practiced on the streets of Yangon, in the dirt clearings of Mandalay and in festivals all around the country from which it originated, Myanmar.
Calling chinlone a sport at all is a bit controversial
It is hard to define chinlone, a team sport with no opposing team. In fact, calling it a sport at all is a bit controversial. It was an official event in the Southeast Asian Games when Myanmar was host last year. But there are traditionally no points, and no clear winners or losers, so in the competition the rules were rewritten so that opposing teams played consecutively in circular courts, with scoring based on how well the teams were able to keep the ball airborne while performing tricks at the same time. Nevertheless, the games were a watershed for the sport: Myanmar won the most gold medals (as expected), but countries from Singapore to Laos also medaled, and the closing ceremony itself featured an ode to chinlone.