Folk Culture: An Overview of Folk Dances in Pakistan

Folk Dances have survived the onsalught of Islamists in Pakistan

Folk Culture: An Overview of Folk Dances in Pakistan
Image Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKhattack_dance_(16669311736).jpg)

Dances are generally frowned upon by the Islamic theocracy. Since the inception of Pakistan, the traditional dance forms have been more and more sidelined by the state dominated entertainment industry, particularly since the onslaught of fundamentalism that began during the eighties. Yet, several forms of dancing has survived in Pakistan in small pockets, including folk dances.

Folk Dances of Pakistan: Encouraging Signs

Dancing is perhaps one form of art that has received the least support both from the people as well as the patronisers. Yet, there are many forms of dances, both classical and folk, which have survived this ordeal, and in fact, are showing some signs of new renaissance in Pakistan.

While folk dances are usually associated with rural folk and are expressed as the happiness of people on a successful harvest, in Pakistan, there are many folk dances which are associated with martial skills and preparedness for fighting a war. To the first category belong dances like Bhangra, while to the second category belong dances like Khattan and Attan.

Classical Dances, Common Dances & Influence of Bollywood

On the other hand, there also exist classical dances which are highly refined, with illustrious dedicated teachers, with a lot of emphasis on rules and traditional purity. These include Kathak, a less pure but more practised form of which is called Mujra, though many disagree with this view and hold it a dance in its own category.

In recent times, the greatest exposure to dancing in Pakistan has been from pirated Indian movies. This was largely because of a somewhat stigma associated with dancing in the traditional society of Pakistan. In earlier centuries, dancing, specially the classic variety was patronised by the kings and nobles and often performed by courtesan who did not enjoy a very respectable status in society.

The over-emphasising importance of honor and its association with the female folk in traditional society did not allow women from respectable families to openly participate in dance performances.

Popular Dance Forms in Pakistan

Among the popular dances, the most interesting is 'Khattan', a martial swod dance that is popular among the Pashtoons of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is performed with use of swords by men, and has many varieties. The dancer needs to master twelve difficult steps and the art of balancing individual action with the rest of his group. The varieties include Shahdola, Bhangrah and Bulbullah. Bhangrah involves swirling movements in a group. In different dances, group of two or four perform as the central group while being supported by the rest of group, which replaces them after a while allowing others to take centre stage.

Another popular dance from Punjab region is 'Bhangra', which is more popularly performed by Sikhs specially at the time of harvesting. It is however popular in whole of Punjab in Pakistan. It has many forms too, is primarily a very energetic male dance and performed in groups with rapid movements of both hands and feet.

Another popular dance is 'Attan', which is very popular in North West Frontier Province and is classically associated with war, wedding and celebrations. It also has Pashtoon origins, though some claim a Greek origin relating with a dance form called 'Athena'. it is another male dance popular among common folk.

Among classical dances, the 'Mujra' is the dance form associated with female courtesans. Many relate it with 'Kathak' a classical dance form highly popular is North India. In addition there are some artists performing other dance forms too. Though such performances have been few, they are becoming more popular in recent times.


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