Accepted paper:

Decolonizing Uzbek Dance: Honoring the Roots of Gesture


Laurel Gray (George Washington University)

Paper abstract:

Decolonizing Uzbek Dance: Honoring the Roots of Gesture This paper responds to assertions that contemporary Uzbek stage dance is an artificial Soviet-era invention and that Uzbek women's dance was created in imitation of professional dancing boys, or batchas. While systematic Soviet training did shape performance style, Uzbek dance contains elements of a traditional gestural language. Male Europeans travelers, denied access to the women's quarters, or ichkari, wrote about dancing boys, but this does not signify that women had no dance culture. Boys who later became batchas were raised as small children in the women's quarters, immersed in a feminine movement vocabulary. A variety of still-existing regional styles and differing dance intentions - such as ritual - reveals sources without connection to Soviet choreography. An analysis of the kinesphere used in Uzbek folk dances provides a method to evaluate movement. Insights also draw upon Alan Lomax's theory of choreometrics, a system which posits that traditional dance grows from everyday movements. Repetitive activities, such as horseback riding and silk production, change the human body in ways that impact flexibility and range of movement. Dance gestures literally embody these quotidian activities, turning them into expressive elements. I also draw upon my own experiences of researching, studying and performing Uzbek dance for 40 years, including personal transmissions from my teachers and noted artists. I argue that to label Uzbek stage dance as "ersatz," is in itself a new type of colonialism. It dismisses a gestural heritage connected to the historical experience of Uzbek women and reflects a bias of "dance" as an activity consigned to specialized movers rather than a vital element of cultural expression. My paper proposes a more nuanced understanding of the origins of the gestural heritage of Uzbek dance that reflects traditional life ways and links it through a shared movement vocabulary to other Turkic peoples.

panel CUL-04
Performing and Negotiating Local and Global in Contemporary Central Asian Affairs with Identity, Art and Culture