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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
  • Unknown

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