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Attan performed at George Mason University in 2014. Photo by Angela Schöpke.


Afghans, the only thing that would be like deep rooted in our culture is something like the attan, that men used to do before they go to war. We have something called the attan milli, which is the real traditional attan that actually men dance to not women. But women learn it now. So it's different, it's complicated, you have to learn the beats of the drums, know how to dance to it. So regular attan that you do at like a wedding, it's just simple. They'll come they'll clap they'll spin that's it. Attan milli is much more complicated. They'll do the claps and they'll do the spins, and at one time - I can show you, you can hear in the music the difference of beats - where you clap three times, you spin three times, and then you do a different type of spin. And those spins are different. So a "chargh" is spinning one way, and a "nim charghi" is turning in another way. So a chargh means like a spin, Nim charghi means like half spin. Definitely attan milli, it's a lot more fun. It doesn't get repetitive and you can change it up. And it's even fun, because it starts out really slow and get's really fast. It's the national dance of Afghanistan. It's hard to say where exactly in Afghanistan the Attan is from because borders have been drawn, redrawn, and changed so much, but the Attan is the one dance that you can say has for sure come from Afghanistan. How it was made up, how it started, I have no idea. I would say it's one of the purest forms of dance in Afghanistan because when you tell people about Afghan dancing, the only thing that's actually choreographed or synchronized is the attan. Because any other type of dancing is like, free, like freelance. there are a lot of different types of attan so you can do... growing up you just have like a very simple turn attan.I would just watch videos and mimic them to learn to dance.

Dances that we do for our competition here with the Afghan Student Union at George Mason University, we mix a lot of dancing up. We put moves in that wouldn't necessarily be Afghan but that just go along with the music. Because we don't have, the only choreographed dance that we actually have is the attan, you know. Everything else is freestyle. Well every year, based on the main provinces of Afghanistan, we'll put like a Qata Ghani song in, or a Tajiki or a Loghari, obviously we'll have a Pashto song. Belly dancing is pretty much just shaking your hips, that's it. It doesn't get any more complicated than that. Qata Ghani is a special step that you do with your feet. And when you hear the beat of the music you know it's a Qata Ghani song. Or you have Loghari, which is from the Loghar province where it gets its name. Where, if you hear the beat you know, it's kind of like a stop-go kind of a dance. And then you also have Tajiki influenced dancing that is more for the people up north in Afghanistan that are close to Tajikistan. But then also, in Herat in that area, they also have a very strong Persian influence on them. So their dancing, a lot of it is almost like Persian dancing. Tajiki is actually very synchronized, a lot of flowy hand movements, a lot of spins. Bandari, like when you hear the music you'll hear the difference because they're completely different. But, Bandari is more Persian like it's from Iran, and basically it's just shaking your upper body.

You know we try to, we try to kind of hit every kind of dance that I could possibly think of that I know how to dance from Afghanistan. And incorporate those moves with a few modern day moves to make it flow. For instance this past year at Mason we had kind of like a technoish Afghan song, and we literally did modern dance. We had a friend of ours who dances at Mason come in and show us modern moves and we had a modern dance to it with a twist of Afghan dancing. It can be how we move our hips or hands that gives it an Afghan feel. So if the guys were doing a certain move toward us, we'd pop our hip or move our hand in a certain way to bring it out to make it look like it's somewhat of an Afghan dance.

I love dancing, like sometimes they'll have Persian parties in DC that I love to go to. Like New Years they have a huge Persian party where they play like top 40 Persian and whatever, it's a very very mixed night. There's this place we used to go to when we were in college called Al Flala wa Lala, it's in Tysons Corner, where they used to have Persian nights on Wednesday nights. So we always used to say, "Mom, we're going to be at school late!" Then we would go and they would play Afghan music, Persian music, Indian music. The place is still there but the Persian nights aren't that great because a new place opened up called Darna in Alrington, and they have like Friday and Saturday nights that are international. They play a wide range of music. And they actually play Afghan music there. They have a DJ. When you hear the Afghan music you see all the Afghans running to the dance floor. Dance is a passion that someone can never take away from me.

My family is all over the place. I have family in Frankfurt, Bonn, and Hamburg for example. My mother is American and actually converted to Islam, so I grew up Muslim. My mother's family lives in Pennsylvania and getting together with my mother's side of the family and getting together with my father's side of the family is just very different. I mean just with American culture and how I've experienced it, you know? Afghans, they get together, they're loud, they're rowdy, bring me tea, you know you have a Thanksgiving dinner every time you get together. With my American side, it's just a lot more simple. You really don't see your extended family unless someone gets married or someone passes away, you know. A couple years ago my grandfather passed away, I met cousins I never even knew. I was just like, who are these people?

Culturally, Americans and Afghans are very different. Just with how I was raised, I'm more adapted to the Afghan culture, but when we go visit family, the American side, it's not like anything changes between us, you know? They love the Afghan food, they love the Afghan music like the sitar and rabab and stuff like that. It's just like them experiencing something new, a different way of seeing things sometimes. Me being with my Afghan family or me being with my American family, I don't change as a person, you know? When we looked at my grandmother's old albums she had ethnic clothes on from Slovakia and stuff like that, so it's not like they were completely American to begin with. But it's just that with time, with life, things change. You know when someone asks me, "where are you from?" I always say Afghanistan. I say my father is from Afghanistan and my mother is Afghan. That makes me an Afghan-American you know.

I know this is really bad, but uh, most of my friends are actually Afghan. Just because when I was growing up, you know, I was raised with an Afghan culture but American mother. So at certain times growing up I was very confused, like any multi-ethnic person growing up in a country, you know. In America. Because when you go do school you adapt to your surroundings and when you go home you adapt to your culture. And when it's different, it gets very confusing.

Um, so at one point, when I had a lot more, in elementary school - and you know I'm still friends with these girls, we chat on Facebook - I was friends with a couple of Hispanic girls and African American and what-whatnot. But once I hit high school I came to realize that it was easier to hang out with Afghan girls. Because, growing up, growing up a lot of my American friends didn't understand the concept of "I'm not allowed to do stuff that they're allowed to do." Or "I'm not allowed to date." Or "I'm not allowed to go to a birthday party with guys and girls there." Just certain things that would be very normal for how someone would grow up in the American culture, or not even that, just how their parents raised them, you know? But my parents-my dad never allowed me to do certain things. It was just a shocker to a lot of my friends. But when I met those Afghan friends, we kind of understood that yes our parents are psychotic and we cannot do these things, so we kind of, we were able to get along and do certain things.

So, that's why now a lot of my friends are Afghan. When I ask my friend like hey, do you want to go out, and they say no, my mom. It's like okay, it clicks, I understand that your mother is psycho. Or when someone says no I can't, my dad. You know, it's understandable. Unfortunately in our culture it doesn't matter how old you are, you still have to keep your parents in the back of your head a little bit.


Location: Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Age: 25

Gender: Female

Ethnicity: Pashtun

STORY ID: 00036

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