Brief Introduction of Uyghur Dances
Uygur folk dances are distinguished by head and wrist movements. Their clever coordination is enhanced by the typical posture of tilted head, thrust chest and erect waist. The dances, Sanam in particular, express the Uygurs' feelings and character. A slight shivering movement is characteristic of Uygur folk dances.
The rhythmic and continuous shivering of the knees and the momentary shiver when a movement is changed lend grace and continuity.
The fast turns of Uygur folk dances emphasize speed and are followed by an abrupt stop, like a soaring eagle that stops suddenly. The various dances all have their own turns. A turning contest brings the dance to its climax. There are special tempi for various Uygur folk dances, but syncopation and dotted rhythms are prominent features in many.
This site has introductions to Sanam, Dolan, Sama, Xadiyana and Nazirkom folk dances, which enjoy wide popularity among the Uygurs. For a more specific information on how Uighurs dance in festivals and parties
Senem is the most popular folk dance among all the Uyghurs in Uyghur Region. It mainly originated in southern Uyghur Region with its advanced agriculture and culture and a dense population of Uyghurs. In forming the Uyghur classic music called the Twelve Muqam, Senem was included, thus it must be even older than the centuries-old Muqam. At the same time Senem was popularised among the Uyghurs as an independent dance.
At weddings, on festive occasions and at parties people invariably dance Senem. For instance, at a song and dance party the whole village, old and young, men and women, relatives and friends, joins in the dance. One family plays host for each party. The dancing and singing are kept going with games of passing flowers, wine cups or belts. Sometimes a performance of Muqam songs and riddles or a recitation of poem is included.
On the first day of a wedding celebration friends on both sides invite the bridegroom and their relatives to their homes. In the evening the bridegroom and his friends go to the bride's home to welcome the bride. A band plays as they go singing and dancing on their way. Throughout the day Senem is the main form of singing and dancing.
In a performance of Senem people sit in a circle with a band in one corner. As people clap their hands and sing in unison, the dancers dance. Besides singing the familiar old songs, they improvise new verses to old melodies to describe the festive scene and their joyous feelings.
The dancers also improvise, following the tempo of the music. One, two, three or five people dance together. The tempo quickens gradually until music and dance reach their climax and people shout, "Qayna! (Come on!)" or "Barikala ! (Wonderful!)" The shouting, drumming and music create great excitement.
Since 1949 and release from feudal ethics Uyghur women have joined in the mass Senem dance.
The movements are graceful, elegant and varied, determined by the music, tempo and occasion. The primary feature is coordination of different parts of the body --- head, shoulders, wrists, waist and legs. For instance, head movements include turning the neck and shaking. The wrists revolve, cross and perform wavelike movements. Waist movements include lifting the chest, turning sideways, bending backward. Leg movements are more varied, including pointing the toe, kicking backward, stamping and turning. Most movements in Senem come from life, such as "holding a hat," "rolling up sleeves," "picking up one's skirt," "looking into the distance with one hand on the forehead" and "putting one hand on the chest." Owing to limited space for performance, Senem has developed the coordination of different parts of the body and various postures to express the dancers' joyful feelings.
The steps feature controlled but not stiff knees and flexible, lignt movements of the legs, closely coordinated with the drumbeat. The most common sequence of steps is three steps forward and one backward kick, the legs steady but shivering slightly. The fourth step, when the performer slides his foot on the ground and kicks backward, is neat and lively.
One often sees old men and necks and shaking their heads when happy. Such movements have been assimilated into Senem.
Differences in dialect, natural surroundings, historical background and customs have produced varied styles of Senem in different places. In some areas the Senem performed in cities and towns is different from that performed in rural areas. Senem performed in Kashi is typical of southern Uyghur Region and is noted and the refined movements of the different parts of the body. The gestures are extremely varied. Senem performed in lli is representative of the Senem in northern Uyghur Region. With elements drawn from the dances of other ethnic minorities, the Ili Senem is known for its boldness, abrupt stops and comic touches. The Senem in Qumul is typical of eastern Uyghur Region. Its slow tempo has an unusual 5/8 beat. The steps are sedate, and the dancer usually simply holds his half-clenched hands over his head. Since the dance takes on different characteristics in different places, people usually refer to it as Kashgar Senemi, Ili Senemi, etc.
The accompaniment has evolved from the folk music in different places. It is melodious and expressive, with striking rhythm. The instruments usually include tembur, rawap, duttar (all plucked stringed instruments), satar, a bowed stringed instrument, and dup (tambourines). The tambourines control the speed. The sound of the instruments spreads far and wide.
Unrestrained and vigorous, Dolan is an ancient Uyghur folk dance popular in Merkit , Maralbeshi, Yarkent, and Awat along the Yarkant River.
Dolan is an ancient name for Uyghurs living in several places in the Tarim Basin. With bravery, diligence, wisdom and strength, they created an oasis on the edge of the Teklimakan Desert. Many people living in Merkit , Maralbeshi, and Awat still call themselves Dolan people and the place they live, Dolan.
Dolan is said to describe hunting. “Searching for the prey with torches follows “Call to the hunt”" "brave fight with the animal," "dauntless pursuit," "encirclement" and "joy over the triumph." From the vigorous mime for shooting arrows we can visualize the hard life Dolan people led in the past. However, some people say this dance depicts a battle. Dolan has preserved most of its original characteristics.
The best performance of Dolan is found in Red Flag Township in Merkit, where men and women, young and old, love to dance it. A couple dance, Dolan has four sets of dance movements, ending with a turning competition.
After a good harvest people hold a party on a floodlit basketball playground. They sit in a circle while the dancers perform Dolan in the centre. First, some people sing a prelude, then while the drummers beat the drums vigorously, people rise to their feet to choose partners and start the dance (men and women usually dance separately).
As the beat quickens, the dance becomes more exciting. Sometimes the couples touch at the shoulders, then separate like a whirlwind. The two dancers spin facing each other, then separate to vie with each other in a stunning display of turns. Finally one person remains, spinning to right and left as the spectators clap, raise their thumbs and shout, "Usta! (Skilled dancer!)" The dance comes to an exciting and exuberant end.
The most outstanding movements are a broad lunge and a bending and shivering of the knees. The lunge is a quick step or a dash, while the shivering movement is a bending and stretching of the knee that goes through the whole dance. These characteristic movements reflect the Dolan people's past work and life in rugged mountain areas, swamps and desert.
Qalun, Dolan rawap, Dolan Ghijek tambourines and other ancient folk instruments are used for accompaniment. Qalun, a plucked stringed instrument, is the principal instrument, producing fascinating music. Dolan rawap, another plucked stringed instrument, has a mellow tone. The Ghijek is a bowed four-stringed instrument. The tambourines play a particularly important role in the accompaniment. When the dance reaches its climax, the players often hold the tambourines overhead and beat them with their palms to inspire the dancers.
Sama, a simply group dance for New Year and other festivals, is popular mainly in Kashgar and Kucha in southern Uyghur Region.
Originally Sama was the name of a primitive religion among ancient Uyghurs. People would pray to gods of nature for hunting and harvest by singing, beating drums and dancing at the command of the ritual leader---Sama. This ritual ceremony gradually turned into group entertainment for New Year and other festivals, then evolved into a solo performed on festive occasions. The dance and its musical accompaniment have been included in the third part of the Twelve Mukam.
After Islam was introduced into Uyghur Region, the rulers still used Sama in their religious activities. For instance, raised hands were interpreted as "Huda god is in heaven", a hand touching the chest meant. "Huda iS in my heart." Sunay horns and iron drums were used for accompaniment. The dancers were not allowed to laugh. The whole performance was solemn. In a temple the dance had no musical accompaniment. The performers simply shouted, "He hu , He hu ," rhythmically while they danced. But on ordinary occasions the performance was joyous and jubilant.
Early in the morning of the Qorban festival the clear beat of iron drums reaches faraway families. Wearing gorgeous costumes, people converge on the open square in front of a big mosque for celebration of the traditional festival. They start the Sama in counter clockwise order to the accompaniment of clear and powerful melodies and the accent beat of the iron drums. As the tempo quickens, the sound grows louder and the dance becomes more passionate and exciting, ending jubilantly.
Except in a few places Sama is performed by men. The steady footwork and vigorous movements are closely coordinated with the drumbeat. At the beat of the drum the dancers stamp the ground and hold, not raising the foot immediately.
The hands are held in a natural half fist. The performer extends his fingers as he swings his arm, then clenches them again as he pulls his arm back. A common movement is a brush step followed by a spin or a step followed by a jump and turn.
Sama has its own special melodies. Familiar Muqam music or Senem melodies are performed as prelude, then a shift in the drumbeat cues in the Sama melodies.
Sama rhythms are strong and vigorous. The main instruments are Sunay horns and iron drums. Drums with different tones form a group, producing a striking tonal effect. The melodies played on the sunay horns are quite flexible and not restricted by the drumbeat.
A Uyghur group dance at festivals and grand gatherings, Shadiyane is popular throughout Uyghur Region, particularly in southern Uyghur Region.
Shadiyane in the Uyghur language means, "joy." At every New Year or other festival, Uyghurs like to gather together and dance to the accompaniment of Sunay horns and iron drums. Shadiyane is the joyous finale. People also dance Shadiyane in celebration, so it is called the joyful dance.
Shadiyane is free and lively in form with no limit as to number of participants. It is characterized by light movements and unconventional formations, Everybody dances freely according to his own inclination, hopping lightly on alternate feet. The hand movements are also very simple. Usually the dancer raises his arms high and revolves his palms quickly.
The melodies for Shadiyane vary in length and may be repeated freely according to the occasion. The music in Kashgar is joyous and grand; in Merkit , forceful and deep like march music.
Choice of instruments is not strict as to type and number. Short and long Sunay horns, pairs of iron drums with different tones and large and small tambourines create a lively sound, but the music produced by stringed instruments and tambourines is no less thrilling. The drumbeat is versatile. People usually judge the skill of a drummer by his performance in Shadiyane.
A Nazirkom originated in the well-known Turpan Basin and is popular in Pichan Toksun and Hami.
According to one source, Nazir is a poor man's name, while kom is the sound of drums. Long, long ago Nazir created many dances satirizing the unscrupulousness of the reactionary rulers as a way of showing his opposition to oppression by the ruling class. The people warmly received his dances. As time went on, the working people gradually developed them into a kind of folk dance and called it Nazirkom.
Men in couples usually perform Nazirkom in an improvisational way. The performers do not sing but dance to the singing of the band and other people. When the performance begins, the dancers display their own skills separately. As the tempo quickens, a contest of skills starts. First, two people display customary feats, one mimicking the other's movements and both dancing in fine teamwork. Suddenly one dancer presents a new and difficult movement to challenge his partner who not only follows but also creates something else new. The spectators cheer on the performers to the rhythmic of the drums. Sometimes a silk flower or handkerchief is placed on the ground for the performers to pick up. One performer will challenge the other with particularly difficult manoeuvres to pick it up. The performance reaches its climax and conclusion at this point amid people's cheers.
A walking step is most often used. Bending the knees slightly and relaxing the upper body, the performer walks about, changing postures or mimicking different characters. Light shoulder shrugs enhance the intimacy and humour of the dance.
With exaggeration and wit Nazirkom imitates movements from daily life, such as rolling thread, stitching a shoe sole, and making dough and noodles. It also uses a great variety of squats, leaps, jumps and other movements.
The songs for accompaniment have special verses that in the past described the love of young people or exposed greedy and tyrannical landlords and local despots.
The music for Nazirkom is free and lively with striking tempi. When the dance comes to its end, there is only the rhythmic beating of drums and people's cheers.
Instruments include the Ghijek , rawap, tembur, tambourines, sunay and iron drums of eastern Uyghur Region. Sometimes only sunay and iron drums and an extra-large drum, mellow in tone, are used. Veteran drummers can beat different tones to match the changing mood of the performers and enhance the effect of the dance.
A number of Uygur folk dances are performed with props, such as Plate Dance, Sapayi Dance and Stone-Beating Dance. The dances are widely popular, but since high skill is required, mostly professional or veteran amateur artists perform them.
The Plate Dance originated in ancient Kucha and is popular in Urumqi, Ili, Kashgar and other cities and towns. The dancer puts a bowl on his head and beats a small plate in his hand with a chopstick while performing various movements. The steps are basically Senem steps. Arms are horizontal or one hand is placed on the head or at the side with the other on the chest.
Sapayi is a folk instrument of the Uygur nationality. Two iron rings are attached to a 0.5-metre-long oval wooden stick covered on one end with tin. The dancer holds the stick in his right hand and strikes the tin end against his right shoulder or waves it back and forth so the iron rings produce a wonderful sound. A dance for men, Sapayi is popular in areas of southern Xinjiang.
The steps of the Sapayi Dance include three steps and lifting one foot, steps back and forth on toe, and squatting on one leg. Its tempo and movements become very fast on specially joyous occasions, so the movements must be sharp and in tempo.
Stone-Beating Dance is named for another Uygur folk instrument. The dancer holds two stones in each hand and claps them to produce clear sounds while he stretches and bends his fingers and shakes his wrists. It is a man's dance, popular in Aksu, Kashgar, Yarkent and Hoten in southern Xinjiang. The basic movements are those of Senem. Stones are also used as percussion instruments for accompaniment. As the music changes and the tempo become complex, the dancer changes his way of beating the stones.