Dance: A unique signature of Kurdish identity

Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)
Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish dance is a wonder. Each town has its own signature dance, and each dance has its own regional distinction and name. The wonder is that there are hundreds of documented Kurdish dances, each one with its own unique rules and movements.

As a result, many dances have yet to be named or even categorized in South Kurdistan, North Kurdistan, East Kurdistan, and West Kurdistan, the Kurdish-populated regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Several Kurdistans; so many dances!

Shayee, Govand, Helparke, and Dilan, are four terms for dancing in the Kurdish language, from which one can get a glimpse of the rich culture and long history of the land and people.

“These words are well-known, but there are so many other regional words for dancing such as Chopi, Gopand, Zamawand, and Lohan,” said Kayfi Kareem, a linguist specializing in various dialects of the Kurdish language.

Circle, semi-circle, and straight-line are the three main types of basic movement styles that those who participate must know well. All types of Kurdish dance are done in groups, usually with both men and women dancing together. The performers stand next to one another, shoulder to shoulder, linked by interlacing fingers or by placing one’s hands across each of their dancing neighbors’ lower backs.

The movements and interactions between dancers aligns with aspects of the character and nature of greater Kurdish society.

“Kurdish dance is not individualistic,” said Serbast Karwan, an expert in the field. “It is a community or collective dance, and that reflects the Kurdish society; a collective society.”

Kurmanji and Sorani, two overarching types of Kurdish dance, come from both Kurmanji and Sorani dialects of the Kurdish language. Each dialect has its own specific music for its own special dance.

The movements of Kurmanji dance tend to be sharp, energetic, and complicated, with the body held erect and with participants holding tightly onto each other.

Sorani dance typically has simpler features and steps, with one’s shoulders being continually raised and dropped and the body swaying in a bending, fluid style.

“Kurmanji dance includes Keciko, Cepikli, Garzane, Papuri, Meyroke, Temilav, and Ceceno,” explains Karwan. “Sorani dance includes Gerdun, Cepi, Khanim, Dupa, and Sepeyi.”

Shekhani dance, he said, “is common in Badinan areas such as in Duhok and Zakho.”

Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)
Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)

The one who leads a Kurdish dance organizes how the space and steps will be utilized. There are different terms for dance leaders, such as the Sergovand, Sercem, and Serchopi. A Gawani, conversely, is another dancer with responsibilities at the back, or end of the chain of people who is responsible to close the line or circle and keep the movement clean and in the traditional fashion.

Kurdish people from multiple nations commonly dance during celebrations such as the Kurdish New Year of Newroz, at weddings, birthdays, picnics, and any other social gatherings.

Each village, each town, and each region has different dances to express different feelings, ideas, or traditions.

“In the Hawraman region, dancers get together for a tough dance in snowy winter to warm up,” Karwan noted. “They wear specific Kurdish costumes such as the balak, klash, pastak, klaw, and jamana.”

Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)
Kurdish dancers demonstrate their traditional cultural heritage. (Photo: Soran Safin)

With the popular spread of various Western culture across the world, young people in Kurdistan have welcomed Western-style dances and established multiple small groups to perform them and celebrate an interesting mix of methods, according to Karwan.

Read More: Hip-hop dancers in Erbil aim to unite all four parts of Kurdistan

“The new generation is more responsive to the western dance than to the local one,” he noted. “And that is a bell that warns us to do better to maintain our culture and identity.”

As a counter-reaction to many Western-style dance troupes, some young people have founded local Kurdish dance clubs that perform professionally in the old way at weddings, ceremonies, and seen often on video clips posted on social media.

“The professional Kurdish dance clubs have revived the culture and they perform at a different level,” said Soran Safeen, owner of the Helperkei Kurdi dance club, adding, “The dancers perform in a specific uniform and that distinguishes them from other clubs.”

Safeen also added that although these professional dance groups are often paid for their art, the fundamental aim is to protect an irreplaceable part of the Kurdish identity.

“Our people cannot live without dancing,” he remarked, “and that spirit has kept us alive for centuries.”