Good Manners:  Dancing in Central Asia

Good Manners: Dancing in Central Asia

MIR’s Megan Gilboy shares her insights and love for a classic Central Asian treasure: dancing. 

Travelers to Central Asia sometimes think dancing in this part of the world is all about “shakin’ it up,” belly-dancing and wiggling those hips.

No.

What we generally think of as “Central Asian” or “Middle Eastern” dance – the bellydance we see in the U.S. and all over the world – is very heavily influenced by Western culture. (Most notably, France and Hollywood.)

Such dancing would be in Turkey, North Africa, or in other countries, but not in Central Asia. Here it’s a bit more modest. When I’m not working as a bookkeeper in MIR’s Seattle office, I’m focused on Central Asian dancing. I used to perform quite a bit around town, and I still get out there on the dance floor today. Here are my tips for travelers intent on hitting the dance floor in Central Asia – without embarrassing themselves or the locals. This advice is mostly for the ladies, by the way.

Megan Gilboy – on the right – gracefully moves through an Azeri dance <br>Photo credit: Megan Gilboy

Megan Gilboy – on the right – gracefully moves through an Azeri dance
Photo credit: Megan Gilboy

Don’t “Shake Your Booty”Don’t wiggle your hips, don’t wiggle your bottom. Save that for other countries. In Central Asia, movement is more of a gentle swaying of the hips. It’s subtle and graceful. “Shimmies” are a big part of dance in North Africa, but in Central Asia, it’s all about grace and subtlety, like a swan.

Moving Your LimbsArm movements generally come from the shoulders, and are rather serpentine. Lift your arms and shoulders and move them slowly, almost like swimming backstrokes or doing the crawl. Hand movements are very flowery – fingers extended, thumb and middle finger parallel to each other, and moving in figure-8s from the wrist, like the hand-waving hellos that beauty queens make in a pageant or parade. As far as feet go, dance steps are just little steps any way you want.

Of course, there are actual dances that have routines and set movements, but when you’re visiting Central Asia, impromptu works.

Central Asian dancing is subtle, as these Uzbek dancers show with their swan-like arm movements <br>Photo credit: Timothy Malishenko

Central Asian dancing is subtle, as these Uzbek dancers show with their swan-like arm movements
Photo credit: Timothy Malishenko

Dressing the PartDance clothes – cleavage is a no-no. Dress conservatively and have a sweater or shawl to cover your arms so a man (unless you are related to him) does not touch your skin. Keep your shoes on; sandals are OK to wear.

For the GuysThe rules are looser for the guys when it comes to dancing: the movements are more aggressive, war-like – where guys get together on the floor, kick up their heels, and whoop it up. However, when you’re in a quieter dance mode, do not touch Central Asian women, and only touch your partner.

Brightly costumed Turkmen dancers lift their hands and kick up their heels! <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Brightly costumed Turkmen dancers lift their hands and kick up their heels!
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Dancin’ Til DawnAs they say,  “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That’s true for Tashkent, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Almaty and other Central Asian places. Watch how the locals dance, pay attention to the movements, and be prepared with the proper clothing for dancing. Do not be shy and NEVER turn down a request to dance. It’s very impolite.

In Central Asia you just “gotta dance!”

Men compete with their best dance moves in Osh, Kyrgyzstan <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Men compete with their best dance moves in Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Travel to Central Asia with MIRThere are many opportunities to practice your dance moves on MIR’s scheduled tours to Central Asia. It’s a great way to interact with locals, share a laugh over your two left feet, and appreciate the dextrous art of Silk Road dance. You can also book a custom private journey.

(Top photo credit: Michel Behar)

PUBLISHED: October 7, 2014

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