GUIYANG, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- Heavy drums beat out among the clapping and shouting of the audience. Red, green and yellow flags flutter in the wind. In the center, dozens of brave, black-bearded fighters in wooden masks and long-sleeved costumes try to kill each other with long swords.
It's a depiction of the bloodthirsty fight between two leaders of a rebel army after the collapse of the Qin Empire (221 BC - 207 BC), Xiang Yu and Liu Bang.
But when the performers take off their masks, the crowd are surprised to find that all are women.
"In the past, basically men played all the roles in Dixi. Female performers were rare," said Chen Qi, head of Meiqi Village in Anshun City, southwest China's Guizhou Province.
Dixi is local opera of in Anshun. The work has been passed down for hundreds of years.
Guizhou is at the frontline of China's poverty-relief campaign with more than 3.7 million people living under the poverty line. Many men in Guizhou have left the rural areas to seek work in the cities, leaving behind the elderly, women and children at home.
"Only a few men are still in the village, and few of them are willing to take part in Dixi," said 71-year-old villager Pan Rongde. Pan has been performing Dixi for about 40 years. "We simply cannot find young men to pass on the skills."
Scared that the art might die out, Pan recently formed the all-women Dixi troupe, which consists of about 30 members, all of them housewives in the village.
Liu Qin, 34, is a mother of two. She recently joined Pan's troupe. Liu started learning the art with several women in the village and has spent a lot of time learning the performing skills.
"We once practiced for about three months, day and night," Liu recalled. "To prepare a show for Spring Festival, we just stood next to a stove and danced till the middle of the night."
Liu said that she joined the troupe to "help carry on the Dixi culture," but she gradually fell in love with the art after all the practice.
For Zhan Yunxian, 38, learning to play her part in Dixi became a new way of relaxation.
"We used to watch men performing Dixi and I had never seen a woman do it," Zhan said. "So when Pan asked me to join the troupe, I felt awkward."
Zhan said that after she saw other women joining the troupe, she relaxed and carried on.
Now, performing Dixi and dancing in public squares have replaced watching TV and playing Mahjongg in Zhan's leisure time.
Dixi has boosted the women's confidence. To get performing opportunities and deliver great performances, many of the performers practice as much as possible.
"Even when I work in the field, I try to recite the lines, because I know I want to be a better performer," Zhan said.