As a child I loved dancing, especially Bollywood. In Canada I had friends that I got to dance with. Now in the US, I actually dance more for exercise. I think Afghan dancing here in the US has become very similar. There is no versatility left in Afghan dance. It’s all sort of boom boom boom, but the beauty and delicacy has gone. The skill isn’t really there. A good example of decent dance is the dancer Setara from the 1970s. She did a Herati dance. Her dance is very beautiful and elegant and decent. Bollywood sometimes makes dances vulgar. Parisa Mursal is another example. She was a singer who copied the West in her movement. She was pretty sexy for the time and not decent. Her style didn’t quite fit Afghan culture. George Mason University's annual Afghan dances are also somewhat indecent in that way. They have a lot of movements from Bollywood. We have a saying in Pashto, that a crow trying to walk like a swan can forget it’s own gait.
For people in villages in Afghanistan, it is okay to dance. Things changed a little under the Taliban, but mostly dancing is okay. It’s not as professional or refined as in the US, but everybody does it out of enjoyment. During the war years, women became more self-conscious. I think it’s a personal thing the reason that dance may make for self-consciousness. Some people just don’t know how to move so they try to blame others through making it inappropriate or not allowed. Dance isn’t really used to impress people, so because there’s little space and you’re not trying to impress anyone, you kind of just move and talk to friends when you’re dancing. I do it too. On the other hand, in Pakistan solo dancing was common, and you could really see each movement, so the dancer tried really hard to make it beautiful and precise. Sometimes here at parties a couple of dancers will be given space to do solos and then you can see how they change how they move. They start performing. I think I would just say that it’s a very fine line between vulgar dance and decent dance. For example, a woman can wear very sexy clothes, but still dance decently. On the other hand, a woman can be very covered, but move sexily or in a vulgar way. It’s how you move your eyes and head, your hands, everything.
For example belly dancing is very sexual, but the national dance (Attan) is okay because the clothes and movements are not very sexual. I like the Attan because of the freedom. I like it because of the music and the freedom of not having to care about who is watching because everyone is dancing. That’s probably also a reason I like the Attan, because it’s a sign of unity. It’s danced in a circle, so it’s a sign of symmetry and beauty. I would say here in the US the people who dance it are mixed ethnicities. In Afghanistan it’s more Pashtun.
In the end, for me dance is meditative and spiritual.
Location: Washington, DC, USA
STORY ID: 00034