By Amina Nazarli
National dances is the essence of the culture of each people, the manifestation of their emotions, features, character and history.
The national Azerbaijani dances are in the blood of every Azerbaijani, and no important festal occasion is held without these graceful movements, performed for hundreds of years at folk festivals and games, weddings and entertaining mock battles.
The history of dancing art of Azerbaijan traces its roots from Stone Age. Drawings chiseled thousands of years ago into the rocks at Gobustan, located in 70 kilometers southwest of Baku, represent old Azerbaijani folk dances, which originally were ceremonial and hunting.
Azerbaijan’s folk dances reflect the people’s pride, culture and spirit as well as the traditions and courage, which are so well known for the Caucasian peoples.
If in many western cultures Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March” takes the form of a wedding march, then in Azerbaijan it’s "Vagzaly" music and dance, which accompanies bride and groom to the wedding place.
The most common and most ancient collective dance of the Azerbaijani people is "Yalli", whose roots go back to ancient times. Yalli is performed as a cheerful circular dance often accompanied with a choral singing. Dancers hold hands or shoulders of each other, and make rhythmic synchronous movement, raising and lowering their arms.
The national clothes of Azerbaijan are still widely used in folk dances.
In women’s dances movements of the head, arms and upper body are dominated, and legs hidden under long dresses, get the feeling as if a dancer is floating while moving. Women dances are very soft and graceful with plasticity-smooth motion as in Vagzaly, Uzundere and Gyashyangi dances.
The female dance performance is the personification of a real woman image with swan tenderness and if the dance is performed correctly, it’s looking like a swan floating in the national costume.
Men's choreography, technically complex and rapid, is more accentuated on the legs, which is the main power of the male dances, and hands are relatively inactive. During the performance, dancers easily get on their toes and quickly sinks to the knees.
Male dances are characterized by a fast rhythm, and expression of bravery, strength and temperament. The examples of men's dances are "Gaytagy" "Djengi", "Gazagy", "Khanchobany" and others.
Azerbaijani folk dance expresses symbolically a wide variety of emotional themes, ranging from the hospitality and generosity to friendship and the unity of the people, from the high spirits of young girls to the courage of the young men.
Folk dance has clear frameworks requiring to preserve the purity and originality of folk traditions, and an outstanding dancer, Afag Melikov strictly adheres to this concept, not allowing the slightest destruction of a unique national flavor.
“All the Caucasus dances are beautiful, but the most stunner is Azerbaijani dances both male and female,” Melikova admitted.
Renowned national dancer, Tarana Muradova fully devoted herself to folk dances believes that dance is a reflection of the soul, specificity and nature of the people.
“I studied dances of many peoples of the world and I can say that a variety of technical elements, emotion, dignity and the ability to show the beauty of the woman, her grace, tenderness that present in Azerbaijani dance, can be fined nowhere. I have performed in many countries and every time after the show people came to us expressing their admiration for the beauty of our dances and costumes,” she said.
One of the founders of modern Azerbaijani dance school was Alibaba Abdullayev, who played a significant role in bringing together the folk elements and dances.
“The basis of all Azerbaijani cultural dances are taken from Azerbaijan’s regions," says Tarana Muradova. “Like every artist tries to depict what he/she saw on the canvas, and the choreographer is also trying to bring it on stage. Such dances as “Shalaho”, “Tarakama”, “Sari Gelin”, and “Uzundere” have the elements which were taken from the people and embodied in the choreographic style.”