How To dance the Lezginka

11 September of 2010 by

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It’s not what you think unless you think it’s a dance that originated from the Caucasus. I saw my first Lezginka at café Avat in Kazakhstan, performed by some local teenage Chechens.

  • Story Matt
  • Illustration Romano
  • Soundtrack of the report
  • Lezginka
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My first reaction as a stranger in a strange land was, “This is the weirdest dance I’ve ever seen – ridiculous?” but then, as we all come to understand something foreign, there emerges a certain beauty. Watching the young man stomp and waver in angled movements, emphasizing his shoulders and chest – masculinity; the young woman, fluttering and gliding around with graceful fingertips veiling her smile – femininity, I thought of a light breeze encircling a jagged snowcapped mountain. They were moving images of the land of Chechnya, a land I would only see in a dance. And then an acquaintance wanted me to try this.

I took another shot of vodka and gathered my courage. “What do I have to lose?” I asked myself. “It doesn’t look that difficult.” I took a timid step into the circle. My first mistake. My second mistake was to look down at the ground and begin bending my knees and springing up and down while my arms were like two wet noodles without any determination. I couldn’t help it. I was a sad product of American pop-culture: Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Michael Jackson, and many others who had been the spokespeople of how one ought to move their body.

I had too much comfort and hedonism in my blood – Coca-Cola and bubblegum ran deep into my veins. How was I to dance the Lezginka with all this sweetness? How was I supposed to conjure the blood of my Russian neighbor on my face, the pain of losing family and friends to a once loving big brother, or the strength of “being a man” in the face of struggle – the “soldier’s dance”? The wind left me. The girls went back into the circle, leaving me alone to attempt to represent a mountain or an eagle. Kicking my legs and waddling, I could only give something artificial, a television commercial of a mountain range, something entertaining for my friends and nothing more, something extremely American. I walked feebly back to the locals who were laughing at me. What else could they have done?

They were whistling and clapping in the darkness. I felt brutal. I felt like slaughtering an animal or destroying my passivity. This was my Lezginka. I opened my eyes and stopped dancing. They turned the music down and patted me on the back laughing. “That was great!” one of them said. The dust settled and the light shone once again. I felt like I had won some battle and these teens somehow saw this as well. They offered to give me a ride to the store. “No,” I responded, “but thanks for this dance.” I walked away, leaving them until there was nothing but the sound of Chechen music echoing from the trees.

Here’s a diagram of the steps so you can learn how to do a proper Lezguinka :

Description of the moves :

Man: Raise your shoulders in a broad manner and keep your arms outstretched while bending them slightly in the same direction. Your fingers should be open, however, every so often, make a fist while bending your arms. Your legs should bend slightly while stomping on the ground and crossing your feet. The most important part of the Lesginka should be to be close to your female partner NEVER touching her. You should encircle her while moving your arms around her. You should give the impression of being jagged and hard, but also flowing at the same time.

Woman: Keep your arms raised above your shoulders while veiling your face with your fingers as if you were tickling the air. Walk softly, flutter close to your partner but also give him the impression that he needs to “follow” your lead. Maintain eye-contact with him while walking gently, crossing your feet. You ought to conjure a feeling of softness.

And to finish two videos from experts in the dance :

Matt

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  1. i was so young when i danced at that wedding and by the way i was the first to come out and last to come out lol now i watch and remember how much i changed phiscaly and dance skill wise lol

  2. its my peoples dance! im glad you found it interesting i love how the males dance, they show their emotions really well!

  3. I’m living in Paris. I’m sure if you find any Kazakhs, Chechens, or even some Russians, they would be happy to teach you.

  4. I wish you had chosen other videos than the ones you have chosen. They don’t really reflect the femininity of a woman when she dances Lezginka. Especially when it comes to Chechen Lezginka: there you can really see the softness of a woman dancing Lezginka.

  5. I’d like to congratulate you on your dance. I’ve always wondered what sort of impression westerners would get if they saw us dance. When we dance everything comes flooding out, all the emotions, the history, all our losses and triumphs, the pent up rage and the exhiliration of the moment! I would venture so far as to say our dance is matchless, but that’s just me. I must say I was slightly disappointed with your choice of videos especially since it doesn’t truly reflect how the girls should dance. However, I do realise you’re trying to show how enthusiatic even the younger ones are about dancing.

  6. Could you re-post or send them to my email? the diagram and additional photos the link must be broken. Thanks so much!

  7. Even though I am a woman of Western European ancestry, I’ve always felt that my soul was tied to the lands of the Caucasus. I would so love to learn the man’s part of the dance, as it is so athletic and expressive in a way that speaks to my heart. I guess my own definition of femininity is less “floaty” and more “warrior”, thus the excitement of the dance as performed by men.

    I currently live in the SF Bay Area of California. Does anyone know of any dance groups where I might learn this beautiful dance?

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