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by Mehrdad R Izady  dance

Traditional Kurdish dance falls within the tradition of hand-holding group dances observed from the Balkans to Lebanon, the Caucasus, and Iran. This dance formation is called govand or gowand in Kurdish (more familiar to the Western audience through the I.ebanese Dabka dance). It is almost always a form of round dancing, with a single or a couple of figure dancers often added to the geometrical centre of dancing circle. The Kurdish dancers on the circular path consist, usually, of alliterating men and women holding hands and colourful handkerchiefs. in a semi-circle, and moving around the circle with the leading and trailing persons waving their kerchiefs in elaborate motions. The leading individual often accentuates the customary steps and motions for the dance by displaying more energy or even by adding to the standard moves some of his own personal liking.

The group dances divide into two distinct groups. The slow and graceful types are performed by the hand-holding dancers pulling close together and pressing their shoulders tightly against each other, performing the most elaborate and complicated steps of any group dancing. They occasion-ally change direction by facing their leading partner to his/her back, while never breaking their original hand hold. They reverse this back and forth several times. In some slow dances, performers hold the hands of every second person on their side by passing their arms behind their immediate dancing partner to each of their sides. Whenever the man-woman-man-woman formation is possible, this last style result in all men holding each others' hands, while the women achieve the same thing from behind each other. This principle is the same as fabric weaving, and in fact the dancers resemble weaving when performing. In the fast dances, the performers loosen up their holds on each other, and gradually spread out as the dance tempo increases. In this style of dancing too the performers alternatively face the centre of the circle or the back of their leading partner when moving around the circle. When the two individual figure dancers are present at the centre of the dancing circle, they face each other, and weaving to and fro the kerchiefs, perform certain customary steps, including dropping down to the ankles and popping up straight in quick succession as is better known in the Caucasian dances. More often, however, the centre figure dancers relay through their steps and mime a story of love. In one, the dancing girl refuses the love of the dancing man who offers her successively money, jewellery, and a sword. But she accepts him when he offers her the stem of a flower.

A great many variations of the styles are present in different parts of Kurdistan, with the style of northwest Kurdistan, ie of the Dimilas or Darsim. being the most elaborate. Among the better-known fast dances are the Hay Nara, Yala, Niri, Darsim, shaykhane, Chupi, and Halparika. In Chupi, the figure dancers in the centre sometimes use sticks to perform a dance that depicts a mock face off between two lovers fighting for the favour or their mutual beloved, or simply a mock battle scene. The dancers are usually accompanied by the sound of a drum (Dulul(l), and a powerful oboe (Surna/Zurna(l) Less often a tambura is added to the musical ensemble, or instead of the Surna. In southern Kurdistan, especially, the musicians often double as singers, adding popular Lyrics to their dancing music. Dancing has become more and more a social and political statement among the Kurds With their culture having been strongly discouraged or banned for generations in Turkey, and for a long time in Syria, to dance Kurdish is to break the local oppressive rules and assert the group's identity As such, one sees Kurdish fighters, the peshmerga, dancing in their guerrilla uniforms, and Kurdish politicians academics, and professionals dancing in their Western attire all the same at any gathering - in or outside Kurdistan - all making the same statement General Mustafa Barzani, the legendary Kurdish leader, used to say "One who cannot dance is not a Kurd "

Mehrdad R Izady, The Kurds - A Concise Handbook (p 245) 1992 (Taylor and Francis, 1101 Vermont Ave NW Ste 200, Washington DC 20005) Reproduced with permission