"Milli Attan" is our "national dance" because it indeed belongs to Afghans since the start of the millennium. No matter what struggle has come to Afghanistan, Tajikis, Uzbek, Turkmen, Arabs and all ethnicities alike have done the milli attan.
In Afghanistan this national dance is automatically connected to an instrument called " Dohl." This is a drum. You cannot do attan without the drum. Interestingly enough, this instrument and dance are always so linked with another, that you never in the history as far as I can look back in Afghanistan or have learned, hear of Afghans doing attan without Dohl. When Afghans would fight in wars a thousand years ago, the first row of soldiers in battle formation was actually made up of Dhol players. Those players are called "Dam." The Dam has learned that that as soon as it comes to the war, he must not fall, because if he falls then it would be as if one would lose the war. He must hide among the other soldiers and keep the drum beating for the entire war, even as it gotten more and more heated and faster. But he was not allowed to fall. If he fell, the war was lost. Also, there was no commander of the troops, only the Dam and the beat of the Dohl to keep everyone in rhythm.
That's why this instrument is so, in principle, an integral part of our culture. The Dhol is used in grief, in war, or joy when it's part of wedding or celebration now. Because of the relationship of music to the dance, it is very difficult for us to do. I cannot make good Attan. I can dance but not very well. To dance well, the dancer is looking and watching the Dam specifically, and vice versa.
I have heard of a professor here in Frankfurt who has written books on Afghan histories mostly in Greece and Arabia. One of the books is about Alexander the Great when he was in Afghanistan. He has also married in Afghanistan. One of his wives was Afghan. Alexander the Great wrote once about war, "Before the battle begins, my soldiers' ears burst with drumming." Afghanistan is about 75% mountains and the province in southeastern Afghanistan (Pakhtia) is 95% mountains. Most of them are more than 1,000 meters (that is, the mountains are all very high). The Pashtun ethnicity originated Arya in these mountains of this area where today is Pakhtia. It is in this region that the war Alexander described took place. Through 30, 40, 50 year of excavation and research, this idea was further solidified by the presence of many coins of 10, 20, 30 variations. This suggests that that area was full of people that came from all over, and therefore the wars have even been there. Anyway, when battle started in the mountains and this drum, or this Dohl, had already started long before before the first people's weapons struck, echoed between the mountains, that's why Alexander wrote to his mother , "Before it comes to a battle, we have already lost because the drums burst of soldiers and get afraid." So this story tells of the influence of Dohls at this time.
This history is very rooted and strengthens us. In India too music is very important. Indians and the Afghan are really the same people. Earlier they were all one people. It may be that through climate history and environmental factors that Indians kept certain physiological features and Afghans others, but both Afghans and Indians worship music. The Dhol is also used in India. From the dhol, hundreds of other instruments have evolved.
The Attan goes in a circle with the "Dam" in the center playing the Dhol. The dancers are organized highest or oldest to youngest or smallest in a line snake. It begins with a slow phase during which the Dam sings. Then it goes faster and faster with twists, and the younger follow the older ones. The repetition of the fast part is longer. Attan is always danced at weddings 2 or 3 times a year. For the older people like me, we do a quiet Attan with fewer turns and more singing. Today Attan modernized a bit, especially in the U.S., with more structure. In the men's version of the dance, you normally always dance in a circle in one direction, whereas in the modern version you also dance backwards in the circle.
Women who are good at the Attan, they are very nicely dressed. The Attan is probably the only one where you can not remember whether this woman whether it is a Pashtun or Uzebek or Tajik, since it's a singlar particular dress style that women wear. That's why dance is so important.
I am now 56 years old and in my life men and women dancing together has been rare because men from Afghanistan wouldn't dance with a stranger. But men do dance with sisters or cousins. The gender separation still belongs as to our culture. It's just the way it is. So I'm now for 33 years in Germany and even I would not understand if some strange man would dance with my sister. I will eventually change over time, because everything is changing with time. Only in a group is the Attan danced.
Dancing is part of the life of a human. I dance only as an amateur, as a hobby and Attan in any case only the easy beginner level.
As an organizer of an Afghan cultural group here in Frankfurt, we used to rent a room for Nowruz, Eid, and other festivals and there would always be Attan dance at these events. There were always 300-400 people that would show up! Weddings are really huge. One must invite villages of the relatives, so weddings are really huge. There is no wedding halls where less than 1,000 people fit inside in Afghanistan. All ethnic groups dance at weddings. Even Western dances are danced in villages where it is more private. I know that in Pakistan, in Peshawar but in an Afghan village, all Afghans went to school and danced too!
I am of the opinion that in Afghanistan, we can really only change the system if we set up the culture. That is, even the culture that's been destroyed by war and though the land is really quite ruined. Dance is always with Afghans culturally speaking, and especially Pashtuns because they are the majority of the people and ancient inhabitants of the country (or what used to be Aryana and is now part of Pakistan and Iran). But this cultural thinking was more than 7 or 8 years ago in Frankfurt. Now we've turned our focus to Afghanistan's political structure and are focusing less on culture. I still dance at Nowruz (so say the Tajiks ) or Nawikal (so the Pashtuns in Pashto say), but most of our gatherings focus on political change.