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       Please out of respect for traditional dance and the Afghan people, we ask that these facts about Afghan dance be for information only and not to be misrepresented by night club or show dancing but only to be further studied to be possibly eventually performed by very serious folk and ethnic dancers in a respectful egoless manner. No part of this copyrighted material which is drawn from publications by Eastern Arts may be used in any way without written permission from Eastern Arts, Thank you.


PASHTUN - people of southern area of Afghanistan
TAJIK - Asiatic people in the north
TURKOMEN - people of the northwest
LOGARI - type of dance from Logar valley
SHAUQI - amateur musician, dancer; unpaid hobbyist
SAMOWAR - tea house where musicians meet and play
KESPI - professional (musician or other)
REBAB - skin-covered stringed instrument native of Afghanistan
TAMBUR - long necked stringed instrument
ZERBAGHALI - single headed clay goblet drum
DHOL - double headed wooden barrel drum
ATAN - national circle dance of Afghanistan
DOIRA - round frame drum
CHOPBAZI - stick dance
NAZ - flirtatious or coy attitude
MAIDA - tiny shuffling footwork


      Afghanistan was one of the first stops for Indo-Aryan tribes on their way to India and Persia. It is the area where the original Vedic and Avestan hymns were developed and from whence most of the great Persian poets hail including Molana Jalalladin Rumi. Afghanistan was on the path of Buddhism which found it's way to Central Asia and China with Bamyan as a major Buddhist center with it's huge statue of the Buddha carved in a cave which was recently destroyed because is was considered a pagan a graven image.
      Afghanistan is a land of three main ethnic groups: the Pashtuns who inhabit the southern half, the Tajiks who are said to be the former inhabitants of the area and the Asiatic people of the north (mainly Uzbek), and Turkoman in the northwest. The southwest is inhabited by a minority group known as Baluchi who spread over from Iran and into Pakistan. The western border area of Afghanistan, Herat province, is inhabited by people similar to those living on the other side of the border in Iranian Khorasan. Music in Afghanistan seems to be divisible along these ethnic lines: Pashtun, Herati, Uzbek and the less predominant Baluchi and Turkoman styles. Logar province, south of Kabul is known for it's musicians and dancers and has a special style of it's own. In recent decades, Indian classical music has influenced the Kabul area.


      Afghan dance styles can be classified according to ethnic and geographic divisions. The Pashtuns of the south have wild and virile dances; the Uzbeks of the north represent Turkic dance forms similar to those of other Turkic peoples yet different than the court dance tradition which has developed into the styles of Uzbekistan. The Heratis seem to have developed their own form possibly representative of past eras when Herat was the cultural center of the Islamic world and influential because of philosopher sufi saint Khwaja Abdulla Ansari. Traditionally, it was a disgrace for a woman to dance in public except at family gatherings where everyone danced for fun, privately or in the company of other women. The concept of a woman as a professional dancer or entertainer was completely unacceptable in traditional Afghan society. So, women who entered the performing arts were often considered of ill repute. However, the courts of former rulers, especially Moghul emperors, were resplendent with ladies who were masters of refined graceful dance forms similar to Indian nautch, which reportedly came from Persia.Women's dance of more recent decades in Kabul reflects influence from India.
      The traditional style of Logar, an area south of Kabul famous for it's skilled performers, is characterized by surprise stops in the music during which the dancer(s) must freeze, holding a pose until the music suddenly jumps into action again. Usually Kabuli, Logari and Pashtu dance is done to a 7/8 rhythm pattern known as tal-e Moghuli counted 3 + 4 with accents on the 1st and 4th beat and pickup accents on the 3rd, 6th and 7th. The Pashtu word gada collectively refers to various types of folk dances which are performed on festive occasions, national celebrations such as jeshn and also religious celebrations. The most popular of these folk dances are: atan, ashla and natsa. The atan is performed by groups of men or women to the accompaniment of the large dhol played with sticks. In Herat there are three different atan, not three different dances, but rather three variations 1. urban; 2. village; 3. distant suburban or kuchi (nomadic). The Pashtu word atan actually means dance.


      Atan, a 7/8 meter circle dance, is considered the national dance of Afghanistan. It is performed by groups of up to ten or more to the accompaniment of the large dhol usually played with sticks and sometimes the sorna (double reed pipe). The 7/8 beat is divided in two measure increments with the main accents falling on 1, 4, 6, 8 and pickup accents on 3, 13 and 14. The atan begins with an announcement by the drum, the dancers then move slowly in a circle around the drummer(s). Speed builds gradually until accelerated to wild movement and rhythm. The dancers go through various attitudes and figures, sometimes singing, sometimes shouting or at other times clapping or snapping their fingers. The dancers often carry handkerchiefs in their hands. Quick spinning and whirling movements of the body are prominent; although in some areas movement of the head and flying hair is more important. In villages the men may carry swords and guns while dancing the atan and the dance can go on for hours, sometimes until dawn. Although the dance is usually a men's dance, on rare ocasions it is performed by men and women together known as ghberg atan. In this case the men sing love songs, answered by the women, and the dialogue continues along with the dance. Advanced moves done with scarves in each hand are characterized by rhythmic snappy head tosses which follow the spins. The Atan can also be done by a group of all women.


      The first type, the Herat urban style of atan, begins with a greeting called mauzun qadam (elegant rhythmic step) also referred to as razm o gozasht, which starts with men in a row. When the leader raises his hand, others in the line follow suit and begin walking in procession. The dancers move forward in a single line stepping slowly to the rhythm with heads turned to the side as if respectfully facing viewing dignitaries or the audience in a military manner. At first the raised hand twists inward back and forth in time to the music then both hands are raised by the leader, followed by the group. Then the group claps with hands above the head. Music for this would be played on dutar and doira or even dhol and sorna in 4/4 pattern. After the mauzun qadam which ends in a brief halt, comes the official national 7/8 beat atan which is a circle dance referred to as dauregi in Herat. This begins with a slow stepping to the beat and progresses with dancers making 1/4 and then 1/2 turns, stamping the foot and clapping hands (chak) once, twice or three times, at the appropriate places in the music. Small hand scarves can be used in the village rendition of the dance and can be in the colors of red and green or sometimes white, carried either by the leader or by all of the dancers. The leader gives the command to clap twice by saying "du" meaning two, or "se" meaning three. The dancers move together and apart in a circle like a flower opening and closing. The traditional atan tune, known as Shah Mast, speeds to a frenzy before the leader might call out to the musicians "bezan aushari!" meaning play aushari.


      There is a form of aushari done by men. Each sits on the floor at opposite sides of the room waiting in the spirit of competitors. When the music begins, they both rise and stand and begin dancing. Facing each other, they approach in friendly challenge using typical Herati motifs, sometimes these movements portray monkeys or serpents. The melody played for aushari also accompanies a Herati dance known as shalangi or sharangi from the word shalang or sharang which denotes the sound of bells. This is primarily a women's dance done by two women who start in opposite corners of a room. They slowly approach each other until they meet while clapping on the first and third beat with arms stretched to the right, above the head, to the left and back or right, up, left and downward. As the dance progresses, the claps can augment to two in each position then three, always on the first and third beat. The feet shuffle, shifting weight from one foot to the other. Dancers hop lightly on one foot while the other is raised in front. In the past, some ladies would raise the foot until the heel is near the knee of the other leg. One clap would be accompanied by one hop, two claps by two hops on the same foot and three claps by three hops on the same foot. The dancers face each other and usually mirror each other's movements but they might decide to clap in the opposite direction, as if in a game to confuse one another. The dancers may add other dance techniques such as those characteristic of ghamza (flirtatious glances), eshwa (coquetry), naz (coyness), movements of the eyes, eyebrows. Aushari, a mispronunciation of abshari from abshar meaning waterfall, serves to describe the dance form. In regards to the music, one should not confuse aushari with the Persian dastgah (mode), afshari where the modal scale is not the same. Another name for this melody in Herati dialect is Wokh Balokh-a Panja Meri which in standard Dari Persian would be pronounced way ba nokh-a panja meri or "Oh, you walk on the tips of the toes." The words to the song start out:

Wokh balokh-a panja meri
Chal sala dukhtar asti
Memorom az gham-a tu
Cha kheyal-a dilbar asti


Oh how you walk on the tips of the toes,
It is forty years you have been a maiden;
I die from sorrow over you
What kind of sweetheart are you?

Shalangi can also be performed in a line of about 20 persons. The first person in the line turns toward the second and the third person towards the fourth and so on down the line until each set of two dancers face each other. Then they clap to the right, above the head to the left and forward mirroring each other, first one clap then two and finally three. This version can be done at the end of the national atan in which those who are not tired out dance down to the last person. This variation may be done by men or women, though probably not mixed.


      The natsa is a dance reserved for happy occasions and is often performed for the amusement of others. At times individual dancers perform artistic choreography following the music of the rebab, drum and possibly other instruments with movements of the head and legs usually with bells worn on the feet. The ishala resembles the natsa, but is a solo performed only by women at weddings and some other occasions. The performer carefully and delicately follows the musical accompaniment with graceful movements. When danced at a party, the dancer will sit down when another woman enters the room so the newcomer may also have an opportunity to dance. On certain occasions, comic stories are told with the performer starting the story while sitting before rising to dance. In certain areas, both ishala and natsa are performed before large audiences in the open air. Basic characteristics of Afghan women's dance are graceful hand movements, fingers together, eyes watching the hands wherever they move, framing the face, hands over the head flowing back and forth, hands tumbling over each other, hands twisting together to the right then to the left, neck slides, expressive facial movements, alternating single eyebrow movements, shuffling from side to side with the right foot nearly flat and the left foot half raised and the toes following the heel of the right, fast spins, hand and arm patterns while kneeling and swaying. These movements are not known to be codified as in Indian and other types of dance, and do not necessarily interpret a story. Women's dances done in private often provide an outlet for the women's frustrations in that they mock some of the problems they are faced with, not unlike women in most societies. The women also sing songs often teasing noted people in the family or community to help them to deal with things, or face things for which the society does not provide an outlet.


      Herati women's solo dance known as ghamzagi or qandegi in which all naz or eshwa that a dancer knows is drawn upon to be presented in a free format. Naz is the Persian equivalent of coyness, it is the use of femininity to it's utmost and is a very important feature of the female psyche in the East. Movements can describe aspects of daily activities such as facial beautification, combing the hair, sewing, sowing, picking fruit or flowers etc. Famous Herati dancer, Sitara, noted that on the video she recorded in Herat in the 1970's, she represented beautification, combing hair, sewing and other such activities in her dance solo. There is even a variety of women's solo called chaqubazi or knife play, in which the dancer feigns cutting or stabbing herself sometimes to a degree of credibility that shocks the audience. Herati's are also familiar with the Oriental tea cup dance in which saucers with cups of water are held in each hand as the dancer does various moves including kneeling and bending backwards until the head touches the floor without spilling the contents of the cups held in the palms. Another interesting mime like dance done in Herat is a kite dance called khaghazbadbazi in which this popular Afghan sport is described in dance. Facial movements include side-glances, gentle yet sharp neckslides, and an occasional subtle sweet innocent smile.


      Another Herati variation on the atan is a stick dance called chopbazi or stick playing, which is similar to the Iranian stick dance of Torbat-e Jam near the Afghan border. Each dancer holds a stick in each hand, first hits his sticks together then the first dancer turns to face the second and so forth, so each dancer can strike his sticks against those of his neighbor. The dancers can also turn towards a neighbor to strike one stick then turn to the other neighbor and do the same turning back and forth as the circle moves forward. Two of the more advanced dancers go to the center of the circle and squat down striking their sticks on the ground then against each other's. A final variation and highlight involves one dancer who would quickly travel around inside the circle striking the sticks of each of the other dancers in rapid succession.


      The traditional style of Logar, an area south of Kabul famous for it's skilled performers, is characterized by tricky stops in the music during which the dancer(s) must freeze, not moving until the music suddenly jumps into action again. The musicians often try to trick the dancer(s) with abrupt unexpected stops and may leave the dancer(s) fozen in unconfortable positions for a minute or so to see if they can hold their pose(s). Logari dance is generally accompanied by rebab, tambur, dilruba and dhol, also by the harmonium which is an unfortunate result of Western influence in India. Logari "stop dance" as it is called by westerners, is done by men or women, each doing the same sort of movements with the male version more masculine. Logari dance can be a sort of competition between dancers or dancer(s) and musicians.


      Mens costuming for atan and most any dance is everyday clothing and would include a long, knee length shirt, kemis; billowy pants, tumban; brocade vest and sash around the waist. Men wear various styles of turbans or wrapped fabrics over a brocade or beaded cap. For the wilder version of atan, long flying hair is appropriate for men. Women's costume for most of the dances is very similar. A black dress, red pants, green veil, jewelry and often ankle bells has been considered national dress for dance. Sometimes dresses of different colors will be worn, but the above mentioned colors are most common. The dress is often adorned with shiny metal discs or palettes near the sleeve and skirt hem. The veil, called rusari, is a sheer rectangular chiffon fabric which is not completely sheer and usually a vivid enough color to be very transparent. In the street, women usually wear the chadri, abeautifully pleated shiny silken cloak which serves to protect from dangerous dust and as protection for the women in the presence of males outside the immediate family. The women often, almost always, use surmei to blacken the outline of the eye. The Kabuli dancer might wear a modern version of the typical Afghani dress since it is a more westernized town. It would be a more satiny fabric, tied at the waist, could be floor length and would include the traditional decorated bodice. The dancer could wear a jewelry headpiece or a lightweight veil pinned to the hair. An alternate costume could be a modern or a traditional embroidered blouse and billowy pants with a velvet embroidered vest. An example of the type of clothing worn for Ozbaki folk style dance is the traditional Afghan pant with overblouse, often the same color. A chapan which is a wide, long, longsleeved coat, would be worn atop the other garments and could be of the favored silk ikat fabric of northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Ikat is known throughout the world in different styles and is known as a unique method of dying fabric producing an irregular yet very colorful striped effect. The female dancer would wear a small cap, called araqchin, with a veil called rusari attached. This rusari would not be sheer but could be a solid or a striped rayon blend fabric, or a lightweight fabric. Typically the dance could be done in barefeet or in little brocaded slippers. Jewelry would be large old silver pieces and could include ornamentation on the cap as well as necklaces, bracelets etc.


      The Ozbaki (Uzbek) ethnic minority of Northern Afghanistan is racially related to the Uzbek people of Uzbekistan in the Soviet Union. Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkomens, Aimaks and Kirghiz or Turko-Mongol are peoples that have migrated south over a period onward from the 7th century. The Uzbeks are dominant around Mazar-i Sharif as well as around Kunduz and Faizabad. Uzbeks and Turkomans are of Mongol-Tartar origin and speak a Turkic dialect. Many Afghan Uzbeks are refugees from former Soviet domination. Although the ancient Bukhara maqam system of six modes (shash maqam) has undercurrents among the Ozbaki population of Afghanistan, most of their music seems to take on the aspects of often catchy 4/4 tunes played on the dambura (fretless two string lute), qaichak (bowed two string instrument) and zerbaghali (hourglass drum).       According to examples offered by Afghan informant Mahera Harouny, Ozbaki dancing is characterized by the basic footwork which is a springy stepping and shifting of weight from left to right etc. Basically, the footwork consists of a type of running pas de basque, sometimes crossing over quite far and at other times stepping with feet almost together. So, with the pas de basque as the basis, we can alternate variations as the music describes: fast, slow, large or small, with a lot of spring or a little lilting spring. The movement can take the dancer in any direction on the floor; side to side, forward and back or in a circle etc. The pas de basque can be repeated several times on the same foot or alternated. Another variation is the same large running pas de basque but circling rather than simply stepping straight forward. A final variation is running in place to the music with tiny quick steps. In the Ozbaki folk style dancing there is not as much specific hand gesturing as in Persian or even Afghan dancing, unlike the Soviet style Uzbek dance in which we find elegant, structured hand positions. Hands can be at the waist or held out to the sides holding the rusari (veil) with one or both hands. Men use sharp gestures which resemble finger snapping or snatching objects from the air. The torso is bent forward or sidewards a little and the head can look in the direction the dancer is traveling. But video and live examples of Ozbaki dancing boy (bacha) techniques demonstrates active arm and hand gestures and more movement. Dancing boys have always been seriously frowned upon by decent Afghan society, but they maintain dance information which can be useful.


      South of the Afghan Wakhan in the northern area of Kashmir, Gilgit and Hunza Valley, is said to have been inhabited by members of Alexander The Greatís army. Situated high in the mountains under the vigilance of mount Rakaposhi, queen of the Himalayas, on the "rooftop of the world", this area has been at the crossroads of cultural influence from India, Persia, Afghanistan and China. The inaccessibility of the area, however, has tended to protect it from heavy outside influence especially from the West. (Gilgitis and Hunzakuts are predominantly Ismaili Shia followers of the Agha Khan.) Wild hopping, stomping and twirls characterize one example of menís dance which is done at parties following a polo match in Gilgit. The footwork for one sequence consists of mincing semi-hopping along with one foot behind the other, similar to Afghan footwork. A variation is two hops on each foot then one behind the other shuffling sideways. The left arm can be held forward and the right arm is held to the square or visa versa. The arms can also be held out for birdlike fluttering. For whirling twirls, both arms are held upward. A common dance pattern may begin with everyone following a leader loosely imitating his movements then breaking into a wild free-for-all ending in a salute. Menswear in the Gilgit and Hunza area is a long shirt worn over billowy pantaloons much like the Afghan kemiz and tumban. A felt coat, dark or light brown, with embroidery of the same color on the lapels and back, tied with an embroidered belt, is common as is the rolled up wool cap called gharmi, typical of Afghani and Pakistani Pashtuns. Women also wear the long shirt and billowy pantaloons topped off by a tall pillbox cap, sometimes adorned with embroidery, to which a scarf is attached, falling over the shoulders much like Afghan traditional women's wear. Light complexion and green or blue eyes and reddish hair is not unusual in Gilgit and Hunza.       The main instruments for festive music of the area is the shrill folk oboe called surna, sometimes several of them played in unison with drone accompaniment, the barrel drum which can be struck with a stick on the low pitched side and the open hand on the high pitched side and sometimes a pair of small bowl shaped drums called naqarat, played with sticks. For the polo matches, pep bands of several surna shriek out wild repetitive patterns accompanied by hard hitting 4/4, 3/4, 6/8 or 7/8 meters accompaniment by several of the percussion instruments. Simple bowed instruments, a string instrument like the Afghan dutar and flute are also used in the area.


      Afghan music is played in the modal scales of India and Persia, many of which are similar in nature. It is postulated that, since Afghanistan was a cultural center of the Islamic world during past eras, the music of that area may be representative of an older parental form of North Indian music and may also represent an older tradition of some Persian modal sequences. The tea house or samowar has been the local gathering place where music is performed and enjoyed. The atmosphere is informal like a jam session in jazz clubs of the Western world where performers would drop by and join in for a few tunes. Due to some negative associations indicated by Islam, especially on public performances of music, Afghan instrumentalists usually insist that they only perform as a hobby and are known as shauqi and are not professional entertainers or kespi which would place them in a very low stratum of society. Therefore, playing as shauqi in a samowar does not interfere as much with religious interdiction.
      Afghan music is both modal and melodic, performed in free-rhythm or rhythmic sequences in 4/4, 6/8 or more commonly 7/8. Chaharbaiti, meaning four is a Herat style and is played and sung in free-rhythm, while introductory improvisations called shakal are common in other areas of the country. Pashtu, Logari and Kabuli music is sometimes performed in patterns of alternating passages of fast rhythmic and medium or free-rhythm sequences. The Herati musical form termed chaharbaiti is a poetic format of two couplets in the Hazaj meter rhymed A A B A. This free-form vocalizing of quatrains has become a free-rhythm musical improvisational style played on the two or three stringed dutar. Chaharbaiti improvisations emphasize a pentachord in the Shur scale concentrating on the notes 5 6p 7b 8 9 p = semi-flat). The Homayun-Isfahan Persian modal scale which has the third flat and 6th semi-flat, is also common for chaharbaiti. Free-rhythm interpretations stressing the 8th and 9th of this scale are interchanged with rhythmic sections which resemble the galloping of horses. Herati dutar master, Izatullah (aka Aziz Herawi), notes that there are several styles of chaharbaiti which are as follows: Herati, Maldari, Kuchibaghi, Jawandi from the city of Jawand, Chishti from the sufi city of Chishte, Hazaragi from the Asiatic Hazara people of central Afghanistan and Saradi from the border area near Iran. To these might be added Khaufi and Torbati from the Iranian border towns of Khauf and Torbat-e Jam. The traditional tune Shaikh Ahmad Jan is a dutar melody which is played in a chaharbaiti style as are a few other Herati tunes. In Herat, when women play the daira (frame drum), other than the standard way of holding the instrument, it can be rested on the tops of the instep of both feet, leaning on the shins, in a seated position. One rhythm typical of the kuchi (nomads) is called duchakegi, which is a 6/8 meter scanned; dum taka dum taka.


      The rebab, the native instrument of Afghanistan is a plucked instrument with a long deep soundbox hollowed out of mulberry wood and covered with skin. Four melody strings are complimented by several sympathetic strings which are tuned to the notes of the modal scale selected and which vibrate in sympathy with the corresponding melodic notes creating an echo effect. An archaeological find in Nangahar area of Afghanistan demonstrates that the rebab has been in existence at least 2,000 years. It was the rebab from which the Indian sarod was developed. The tambur is a long-necked stringed instrument with four melody strings, the top two are tuned in unison, and 12 sympathetic strings are tuned to the particular scale chosen. The highest sympathetic string is used as a reference string strummed during breaks in the melody or along with the melody. The melody is mostly played on one set of high-pitched strings and ornamentation is achieved by squeezing the strings across the string frets which are wound around the neck and tied in a special knot. Formerly, the placing of the frets availed the player of certain quarter tones, but due to the influence of the harmonium, which found it's way from India where it remains as a relic of Christian missionary days, the frets are now tuned to render approximately the Western chromatic scale. Anciently, such instruments had silk strings and were played with the fingernail(s), now a wire plectrum called nakhonak is worn on the index finger of the right hand. The zerbaghali is a single-headed, baked clay drum played horizontally on the lap using the hands and fingers. Playing techniques are similar to those used in Persia, Central Asia and India. Sometimes wood is used for the body of the drum. The dhol is a horizontally held, two-headed wooden barrel drum with the high pitched head ringing a tonic note and the low pitched head intermittently pressed to raise the pitch. It can be played with the hand or sticks in the case of the large dhol. The dhol is used for festive events, the national dance, atan and formerly for battle. The dhol is said to be one of the oldest instruments in Afghanistan.

                  LOGARI DANCE                                           STICK DANCE (CHOPBAZI)

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