Protected: My Uzbekistan Trip

Dancing Along the Silk Road: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Goliard Scholarship for World Travel and International Understanding

Dear Goliard Committee,
I apologize for the delay in getting this blog to you! I received the scholarship in March 2010, and due to visa delays could not go on my trip until May 2011. When I got back in July, I had to immediately pack and move into my new apartment in San Antonio and start the hectic life of medical school. I finally finished this blog and I hope it is not too late! There are photos and videos below! Thank you again!

June 3, 2011 – Already settled and dancing!                    10:51 PM

Here I am, sitting in my grandparent’s house in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, typing this up. This post is private because I felt somewhat uncomfortable exposing so much information about myself on the internet. This personal account will hopefully be successful in capturing my unique experience here in Uzbekistan (Thanks to the Goliard committee)!

I finally arrived here last week on May 28th after waiting so long for this opportunity. I received the Goliard scholarship for Summer 2010 but had some difficulties obtaining a visa to come here. Thankfully, I was able to get the visa this time around and am grateful that the committee allowed this extension!

After meeting with various dance teachers, I was able to set up two lesson plans. My relatives know Malika Akhmedova, who in her time was and still is a renown Uzbek dancer. When she was younger, she performed at all of the main Uzbek festivals in Tashkent and around the country and was often seen on TV. Now, probably in her early 50s, she continues her passion by teaching traditional Uzbek dance to students. I was able to set up dance classes with her on Wednesday and Fridays and this week already went to both days. I was amazed at my first dance lesson. Malika Akhmedova still looks and moves as if she was 25. When she dances, one can’t help but smile and be taken in by her. Uzbek dance is characterized by strong yet graceful arm, wrist, and finger movement and she embodies that completely. While I had many years of dance experience and had no trouble with rhythm, beat, and keeping up with the choreography, I struggled to reproduce the softness and grace of the hand motions. But just in the first two classes, I was exposed to such a wide vocabulary of arm placements, hand gestures, and step combinations, that I realized what I thought I knew about Uzbek dance was very rudimentary. I was glad I was able to set up dance classes with her because I would be learning from the best.

As classes with Malika Akhmedova are in a group setting, I also was able to set up one-on-one private lessons with a local dance teacher named Nigora. Those classes will start next week and will be every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. With her, I hope to learn some regional variations of uzbek dance such as Khorezm, Bukhara, and Ferghana dance. I am also planning on visiting Samarkand and Bukhara and hopefully I can take a master dance class there as well.

Below, I am including some photos of my dance lessons! I am very excited that this is all happening.

Malika Akhmedova teaches me the Bukhara Dance

Learning dance moves in Malika Akhmedova's class

More dance technique

June 9, 2011 – Intense week of dancing                         12:50 pm

This week, on Monday the 6th, I started my one-on-one private lessons with Nigora. Used to the dance structure and technique that I learned in Rice Dance Theatre and other dance companies in the U.S., I had to start with a clean slate here. Nigora is a very good dancer and a strict teacher, which took me by surprise at first because I didn’t expect such harsh criticism, but I realized that was good, because she pushed me to do the right technique from the moment I walked into her studio. Similar to ballet or modern, she introduced me to 7 positions with the arms and legs.
1st position: Arms extended out at the sides so the finger tips are at shoulder level, feet slightly apart in parallel position
2nd position: Arms above the head with hands turned out, with the right heel touching the left instep.
3rd position: Left arm extended up, right arm extended out at the side. Feet back in parallel position with the right heel slightly off the ground.
4th position: right arm moves to fold under chest while left remains extended. Feet resemble 5th position in ballet with
5th position: Left arm extends out to side, right arm remains.
6th position: Both arms extended out to the front palms facing out, leaning forward with feet off the ground
Return position (7th): hands on hips, right heel on ground with toes up.

She showed me the warm up exercise with those positions and I noticed that my wrist and hand movements needed a lot of improvement. We then jumped into learning choreography for a type of dance called Tanovar, which is a traditional Uzbek dance originating from Tashkent. Tanovar is a slower type of dance that requires one to move with their soul, and to draw the audience in with the emotion portrayed on their face. The literal meaning of Tanovar is “Tan”= soul and “ovar”=delight. In the specific dance I started learning, Nigora explained that certain movements had to portray me being shy, coquettish, searching for love, refusing the wrong men, and yearning to find my true love. while she acknowledged that I had a knack for picking up choreography and good memory, she kept noting how arm, hand, and wrist movements were too crude/rough, and that I had to make softer and gentler movements. Getting my movements to be graceful will be the biggest challenge while I am here because the majority of my dance background has consisted of sharp, strong, energetic movements (hip hop, modern, jazz).

On Tuesday, we reviewed the Tanovar dance, learned some more, and then Nigora introduced a different type of dance from the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan. The stark contrast surprised me — Khorezm dance is characterized by very spastic, energetic, and abrupt movements. The hands have to shake, as if almost uncontrollably or as if one is experiencing extreme hand tremors or seizures. The women wear big metallic bracelets on their wrists which make noise with this hand shaking. The dresses have big metallic coins hanging at the front of the dress, which also make noise when shimmying. And to top that off, the hats have noise making coins as well, and a big feather, which is supposed to resemble a rooster. Nigora told me that the woman who originated this type of dance had a limp, so you can imagine a dance that consists of lots of shaking movements to make everything jingle, as well as feet movements that are a bit jumpy and uneven due to the “limp”. Let’s just say it’s not so easy to resemble an epileptic rooster…it was very challenging to combine the quick feet movements with the different hand shaking movements. Nonetheless, after finally getting the steps, it was very fun!

On Wednesday evening, I went back to Malika Akhmedova’s group class. Her class is different in that we focus more on general uzbek dance movements instead of learning dances. She also includes arabic moves in the warm up and turkish circle dances. Since her students have been with her for a while, they have a repertoire of choreography already memorized, and in that sense, I felt behind, even though I could kind of catch on. We decided that I would take a couple of private lessons with her so that I could catch up.

Today (Thursday), I had another class with Nigora, and we finished the Tanovar dance and worked more on the Khorezm dance. The dresses worn for these dances are very different and I hope to get one or two made so that I have the correct outfits with which to perform.

Me with Malika Akhmedova

Me with Nigora

Jump a couple months later…

I was not able to finish my blog during my stay in Uzbekistan because my grandmother’s computer turned out to be unreliable. It was a culture shock for me while in Uzbekistan because I realized how much stuff I took for granted in the United States. In Uzbekistan, the electricity can go off at any point and nothing can be done to fix it until it comes back on a couple hours later. There was no notion of wifi, as the internet connection was DSL, and on top of that, it was pay per usage. I had to cut down on using the internet after my grandmother scolded me for her high bill — Youtube, facebook, skype, and downloading email attachments all racked up the usage. I had to get used to using a gas stove that required lighted matches. I learned not to throw out every piece of used paper towel — the concept of ‘one-use items’ turned into ‘save and reuse for later’. Also, I became very careful about putting food immediately back into the refrigerator, as the all-natural food there spoiled very very quickly. The weather was hotter than Texas and air conditioning was not ubiquitous — inside the houses (if the family was fortunate enough to have AC), it was reserved only for special occasions, and none of the cars had it. In the streets, the main form of transportation besides personal cars were taxis. There were no street names, only locally known landmarks. To my surprise, the Uzbek language was spoken more often than Russian, and my fluent, though accented Russian was quickly noted by the locals! It was these little lifestyle changes that accompanied my dance classes, and that opened my eyes to the comfortable lifestyle I was taking for granted back in the USA. I came back home very appreciative of everything around me.

Nonetheless, despite the environment that I had to get used to, the culture and traditions were as rich and vibrant as I imagined it to be. The food was one of my favorite parts of the trip — getting to eat authentic Uzbek food was an unforgettable experience. On top of that, the hospitality is incomparable. The moment you step foot into someone’s house, they instantly offer you hot tea and a table covered with bread, nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit. Then there is always a form of soup and/or meat pie, and when you think you can’t eat anymore, they bring out the main dish, which could be pilaf or stuffed peppers, or dimlama (meat and potatoes). You simply could not refuse any food, even if you were full. I learned that refusing food was seen as an insult to the host and so I basically ate a lot there!

Traditional Uzbek Pilaf

"Non", the traditional (and delicious) Uzbek bread

Sweet and sour apricots, plums, and cherries at one person's house

The "appetizer" table at a celebratory event of a newborn

Going to the local bazaar (street market) was amazing. Vendors lined end to end selling delicious tree plucked cherries, apricots, apples, and plums. Food vendors cooking traditional uzbek dishes such as rice pilaf, shashlik (kabobs), and non (uzbek bread). Craftsmen selling hand-painted ceramic plates. Others selling dried fruits, nuts, meats, vegetables, random nick-nacks. Most interesting was to see all the haggling and bargaining that every one did. Used to the set prices here in America, I did not realize that bargaining for what you buy was part of the market culture, but it was fun to try!

Food vendor cooking pilaf at the market

Vendors cooking kabobs and other meats

Others cooking food

Vendor selling cookies and treats

Women selling fresh picked sour cherries

Beautiful hand crafted ceramic plates

At the end of my stay in Uzbekistan, I had 5 dances under my belt. From Nigora, I learned the Tanovar, Khorezm dance, and the Tajik dance, and from Malika I learned an Uzbek folk dance and a Bukhara dance. All five dances were unique and very different in their own way. It was the first time I learned such a variety of dance in a short period of time. Before I left, I performed the dances for my relatives and family friends. I apologize for the poor video quality, but they can be viewed via the links below:

Uzbek folk dance:

Khorezm dance:


Tanovar dance:

Tajik Dance:

Bukhara Dance:

As you can see in the videos, while in Uzbekistan, I was able to get professional dance costumes made that I took back home with me. I got to experience shopping in another Uzbek bazaar with my grandmother to search for the different felt/material that the dresses had to be made out of. It was amazing to see so many beautiful colors and textures in the market and in the end, we bought enough material to make two main dresses (purple and yellow) that could be worn with three different vests (2 long, 1 short). I also bought the headdresses that were necessary for the different outfits. My favorite outfit ended up being the one for the Khorezm dance because it consisted of a lot of jangles and coins that jingled while dancing, as well as an elaborate feather hat!

Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand

During my time in Uzbekistan, I was able to explore the famous landmarks in Uzbekistan in addition to going to the local bazaars.
Because Islam is the main religion in Uzbekistan, most of the beautiful buildings around the city were mosques or historical statues.

Tashkent:

Shahidlar Xotirasi Monument - a memorial to repression victims

The Tashkent TV Tower - one of the main landmarks of Tashkent. My grandfather's sister was the main engineer during its creation!

Happy Mother Monument at the Independence Square

Telyashayakh Mosque (Khast Imam Mosque)

Telyashayakh Mosque (Khast Imam Mosque)

Intricate detail of one of the mosque buildings

Samarkand:

One of the day trips I took was with my grandmother to Samarkand. My grandmother is a renown architect in Uzbekistan and I was very fortunate because she was able to get us into some mosques that other people do not have access to.

The Muhammad al-Bukhari mausoleum

Muhammad al-Bukhari's real tomb (we had special access to this). He was a famous Sunni Islamic scholar who wrote one of the most authentic hadith compilations.

Amir Temur's mausoleum - AKA Tamerlane - the conqueror of Central Asia and founder of Timurid dynasty

Amir Timur's (Tamerlane) real tomb (also had very special access).

Ulugh Beg Museum

Ulugh Beg's famous observatory - "one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world at the time and the largest in Central Asia."

Statue of Ulugh Beg, the great astronomer

Bukhara:

I also got to go to Bukhara with my grandmother and a cousin. We got to fly in a bumpy small plane that made me more appreciative of our sturdy planes in the U.S., heh. I really loved Bukhara because it had this sense of ancient historic beauty. It had a more dry and desert feel, which contrasted with the grand mosques that were present. The architecture was not as covered in blue turquoise as Samarkand, but it was still just as beautiful.

The Kalyan Minaret, a tower which served as a landmark for the caravans that traveled along the silk road

The Miri-Arab Madrassah

Lyabi-Hauz architectural complex - a historical pond that is the only one remaining in the city

The Ark Fortress

The Samanids Mausoleum - one of Bukhara's oldest structures

The domed shopping arcades - vendors sell their merchandise inside. The clay building keeps the inside cool from the heat

The Emir's high pavilion at the Emir Palace

The Emir of Bukhara

Me sitting on the Emir's throne

All in all, this was an amazing and really fun trip, and I thank the Goliard Committee once again for allowing me this opportunity! When I finish medical school and get an established income, I will definitely contribute to this scholarship so that more students can experience trips like this in the future. Thank you again!