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Dance with cookware

Written by on Thursday, 14 November 2013
Culture and History, Kazakhstan
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Dear readers, as you know, NewEurasia gave a successfull workshop in Kazakhstan, Almaty. You can read more about that event in special story by Chris Schwartz.
And  now we want to introduce you the winner of our small competition, that we held during the workshop. Her name is Shakhnoza Basitova, she is young journalist from Almaty, student of Ablay Khan University. Her story “Dance with cookware” has got the highest marks from tutors of the workshop.

In principle, there is nothing difficult about keeping a cup on one’s head. However, if one decides to put six or more cups up there, and then if one also decides to dance at the same time, now there is a real challenge.

This is the challenge of “Chin-Tahsil ussuli”, a traditional dance of the Uyghur people. Its name literally means, “dance with cups and plates”, and it is primarily performed by women.

Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim, but “Chin-Tahsil ussuli” exhibits traits of their religious past, including Buddhism and the shamanistic worship of the sky-god Tengri. The “Mun ui” murals in the East Turkestan show musicians and dancers in various poses, always with plates in hand and candles or oval jars on their heads.

To the outside eye, the dance may seem like fun, but in fact it conveys deep lyrical feelings, particularly the beauty of the inner world of women.

“Chin-Tahsil ussuli” converts simple household items into performance instruments. Besides holding a pyramid of cups upon her head, the dancer also makes music using thimbles or chopsticks.

Uighur dancer Elmira Saydullaeva. Photo by Adiljan Saitov
Immediately, one wonders: how do the dancers manage to maintain the cups’ balance?

At the end of every performance, the dancer takes the cups from her head one after the other, thereby demonstrating that no glue or other tricks were used to keep them in place.

According to Professor Gulnara Saitova, Ph. D., an Honored Artist of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “Chin-Tahsil ussuli” requires several skill sets to perform successfully.

“The dance requires perfect plasticity and harmonic movements that synch with the complexity and beauty of musical rhythm”.

Musaeva Ale, a soloist with the dancing ensemble “Tadzhinisa”, has been dancing since she was twelve years old. Now she is twenty. Ale claims that during her career, she has never seen a single case of cups falling off the heads of the dancers.

“Before the performance you need to work very hard. There were times, at rehearsals, when everything was falling, but not on stage”.

“Of course, before the first performance on the stage there is fear, but when you hear the music and start to dance, you forget about everything!” she adds.

According to another “Tadzhinisa” dancer who did not give her name, the key is posture. She adds that the training is understood as something that necessitates time and patience.

“In our ensemble, young girls are taught to keep the cups on their head since they are five to seven years old. That is, it is a gradual process, and accordingly, cups are added gradually”.

As for whether balancing all these cups can ever cause any physical harm to the performer – after all, a stack of porcelain atop one’s head is not light! – This dancer replies, “Of course it is not easy, but it is not too heavy, either; at least, I’ve never got a headache from them”.

Although “Chin-Tahsil ussuli” is predominantly performed by women, it is not restricted to them. There is also a male version which uses a kettle, samovar, or tray on the head.

Shakhnoza Basitova

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