Personal Stories Stories from Kurdistan

Reviving Traditional Kurdish Dance Styles in Rojava

Kurdish dance at a workshop in rojava

The following story is part of a series written by Zanyar Omrani, a Kurdish filmmaker and human rights activist who visited Rojava, or Western Kurdistan, in the spring of 2015. You can watch his film “Without Helmets” here.

Dancing in Rojava

by Zanyar Omrani

Just as unique as the individual Kurds living in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish dancing styles throughout the region have taken different forms throughout history, and in case of their names, few similarities can be seen.

“Halparaki”, “Samaa” and “Dilan” are three common names for dancing styles that can be heard all over Kurdistan. Most researchers agree that all Kurdish dancing styles stem from a collective source. Kurdish dance is the stage on which joys, sorrows, victories and defeats of the people are shown, the ones whose life is still influenced by catastrophic events.

In Rojava, the most common Kurdish dance style is called the “Dilan,” and even the widespread war with the ISIS has had no effect on the Kurdish dance classes. Some months ago, a Kurdish dance festival was held in Romeilan, in which ten dance groups from Jazira Canton participated.

Learning to Dance in Rojava

In Serikani (another town in Rojava) also, a crash course of Kurdish dance was held for dance teachers, and I attended one day in the course.

Students and teachers in Rojava learn new Kurdish dance techniques

Dance students in Rojava practice traditional Kurdish dance techniques.

A group of eighteen girls and boys, all of whom were under the age of 18, made the hall boisterous and lively. They were of the best dancers in the city, and they were there to learn two dance styles from two areas of Kurdistan in this crash course, so that they could teach their pupils after returning to their cities.

The sound of Mostafa Shaheen’s dahol, encourages the dancers to move from right to left. Mostafa is a master of Kurdish dance, who has returned Rojava from Germany.

The dancers yell and sing brazenly. Their hands are tied to one another and the head of the group, coordinates his friends with the rhythm of dahol and at the same time, waves a kerchief in the air. He is called “Serchopí”.

Balance in the movements of feet, hands, heads and also the clothes of the dancers are the delicacies which makes this kind of dance such enthusiastic.

Mostafa says: “There are controversial and non-academic ideas about the history of Kurdish dance. Anyway, what is certain is the diversity and variety of this dance considering the temporal, political and social changes.”

Kurdish Dance Categories

Researchers in the field of anthropology, have classified Kurdish dance into three groups of martial, lyrical and mystical dances.

learning the various types of kurdish dance

Mostafa teaches the various types of Kurdish dance to his students in Rojava.

In contrast with the Iranian Kurdistan, in Rojava there is no traces of “Geryan”, “Labalabaan”, “Chapi”, “Khan Amiri”, etc.

The variety of Kurdish dances are few in Rojava, and as Mostafa puts it, the effects of Arabic and Assyrian dances are evident. Mostafa gives the example of Baagi dance, and says that it is originally Assyrian not Kurdish.

Mostafa’s ten-day training course is named after the late “Vian Peyman,” an Iranian Kurd guerrilla artist. Says Mostafa,

In this course, I will teach the dance of the two regions of Roha and Diyarbakır, in which the artistic origins and the essences of Kurdish dance have not been reduced.”

Historical Background

Mostafa goes on to describe these two dance styles and points to the history of these two regions. Mostafa says that because of the historical war and fighting in Diyarbakır and Serhad, the dance of this region has a more rapid rhythm and dancers stamp more enthusiastically.

Dance students perform newly-learned traditional Kurdish dance styles in Rojava.

Dance students perform newly-learned traditional Kurdish dance styles in Rojava.

This dance is full of epic sounds and signs which is intended to ruin the enemy’s spirit. But in the dance of Roha and Jazira, the exciting life moments of farming is expressed.

Mostafa Shaheen, has allotted a part of this course to teaching theoretical and philosophical background of Kurdish dance, as he states that without having a deep understanding of the roots of Kurdish dance, it is impossible to perform it correctly and enthusiastically.

He speaks about the shortage of academic and educational resources on Kurdish dance and as he mentions his and his friend’s activities in this regard, believes that writing academic books on this topic is necessary and without conducting studies and accurate observation and knowledge, there can be no hope for keeping this old dance up-to-date.

Mostafa, regards the harmony in movement and the clothes style as the features of a good dance and mentions that the harmony between the clothes and the dance is so tangible in the Kurdish dance that one can predict the type of dance and their movement, by observing the clothes mostly used in a certain area.

Kurdish Dance was Previously Banned

Shirvan Ferhad is a dancer from Qamishli. Five years ago, he began learning “Dilan” professionally. Shirvan says,

Learning Kurdish dance was banned in Ba’ath era, but we did not give up and we would learn the dance in the private gatherings and parties.”

Ferhad speaks of the workdays in farms and how they sang together while working: “We moved our bodies with the rhythm of sickle and wind, and that harmonious movements put our tired bodies at rest.”

Effects of the War With ISIS

Nourjan Chupikish, 16 years old, is from Tel Tamer. There are heavy clashes going on in the city at the moment. As he was fond of physical sports, now he is doing Kurdish dance. Nourjan, learnt Baggi, Garzi, Kharfani and Sheikhani dances at early childhood.

Nourjan had 35 pupils before the war came into Tel Tamer, and currently due to the emigration of the people from the city, gathering that number of pupils seems impossible for him.

He seems to be satisfied with attending Vian Peyman Dance Course. He has now added “Delilu”, “Shour ve Martaal”, and “Tashi ve Biri” dances to his knowledge.

When speaking on the role of body in Kurdish dance, Nourjan states that the dancer should have a flexible body. He says that all the body parts have vital roles, but the role of the neck is the most important in the Kurdish dance.

Hopeful for the Future of Kurdish Dance

Mostafa Shaheen has a positive view of his pupils. He calls them talented and smart who have taken up the classes and his training, sooner than he expected. Shaheen hopes that the Ministry of Culture and Art help the dance groups in so many ways.

Two Kurdish students learn traditional Kurdish dance techniques at a workshop in Rojava..

Two Kurdish students learn traditional Kurdish dance techniques at a workshop in Rojava..

The Ministry of Culture and Art, started to act in various artistic fields in different cities, after the 2011 events. Sipan Khelat, the coordination official of culture and art affairs in Serikani, insists on the importance of art in preserving the Kurdish culture against assimilation and says:

Our policy is to continue and develop the cultural and artistic activities along with the brave actions of our youth in war fronts. We will not wait for the war to end, to approach the art.”

I stare at Nourjan Chupikish. If the ISIS is not ruled out of the southern cities of Rojava, Nourjan will not be able to return to Tel Tamer to train his pupils. However, he is still hopeful and says:

Kurdish dance expresses our lifestyles. Our ongoing and non-stop struggle against the ISIS, is manifested in our dance. We represent whatever we have lived, in our ‘Dilan.’ There is no end in this dance, for us.”

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