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Kazakhs Dance Themselves Dizzy

Dance lovers have taken to the streets across Kazakhstan this summer as an equestrian-inspired dance craze sweeps the nation.

Street performances of the Kara Zhorga – a jaunty traditional number performed to a rousing ditty – have gathered thousands to dance along. In Almaty’s trendiest shopping mall, young people joined in the fun by staging a Kara Zhorga flash mob.

On September 10 the city of Oskemen brought out some 60,000 people to take part in a mass Kara Zhorga dance as part of a fitness festival, dwarfing the 15,000 who turned out in the oil city of Atyrau to dance last year.

The first record for dancing the Kara Zhorga, whose title loosely translates as Black Mount, was set in 2009 by 13,370 ethnic Kazakhs living in China’s Xinjiang region, Oskemen-based newspaper Ustinka Plyus reported in a story on the craze. 

The paper puts the dance’s revival down to the migration to Kazakhstan of ethnic Kazakhs from other countries, including China, under the state oralman (returnee) program.

“It is no secret to anyone that in Soviet times all the [Kazakh] folk arts were considered unfashionable and uninteresting,” the newspaper said. “As a result people started to lose their national dance culture – and only with the return of the first repatriates to their homeland did the indigenous dance start to revive.”

Dancer Kaynar Nurlan, a 22-year-old oralman from Xinjiang now living in Kazakhstan, explained the dance’s origins to the newspaper. “A guy’s horse was considered an object of pride,” she said. “Real warriors chose themselves the best fast mounts – the zhorga. They would do various stunts in front of girls they liked, tame the horse and try to do the dance right on horseback. That’s where the Kara Zhorga came from.”

So popular is the dance that some wish to include it in the school curriculum – but it’s not only young people having fun with the Kara Zhorga: Last month elderly people in a retirement home in Semey got into the spirit by dancing along in wheelchairs.

Kazakhs Dance Themselves Dizzy

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