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Transoxiana 14
Agosto 2009
Index 14
ISSN 1666-7050

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Book Reviews

Matthew J. Forss

Goddard College (Plainfield, VT USA)

Doi, Mary Masayo. Gesture, Gender, Nation: Dance and Social Change in Uzbekistan. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 2002. xiii + 153 pp., black and white photographs. ISBN: 0-89789-825-7. Hardbound.

The social and historical investigation of dance in Soviet and post-Soviet years in Uzbekistan is a largely understudied and underrepresented area of ethnomusicology. Though, recent papers by noted researchers, Mark Dickens, Kiril Tomoff and Alexander Djumaev, have explored the nature and development of Uzbek identity and “Uzbekness”, with regards to the performative arts under Soviet rule. In effect, Mary Masayo Doi’s work attempts to fill a large void in ethnomusicological research by investigating the social history of dance from the 1920’s to mid-1990’s.

Doi’s investigations and observations stemmed primarily from interviews with twenty dancers that ranged in age from twelve to seventy. Consequently, all of the dancers were born under Soviet rule. Of course, one problem with sampling oral life histories recognizes that, “telling a life unavoidably also involves telling history in terms of passages through ages of time and transitions between levels of consciousness and social awareness” (p. 14). Doi’s solution is rather an observation that is offered “principally as a collection of individual women’s recollections of their lives and careers as dancers” (p. 14-15). Furthermore, Doi acknowledges the variability and pitfalls of “information…mediated through the memories and sensibilities of the individual speakers…” (p. 15).

The investigation of professional dancers in Tashkent was the primary group of study, since travel beyond Tashkent to other areas, such as Bukhara or Khorezm, was hampered by travel restrictions. In addition to biographical inquiries, Doi filmed several performances live and on TV. However, an accompanying DVD of dance styles and performances would have been very beneficial for readers to visually understand the nature of the Farghana, Bukhara, and Khorezm dance forms discussed. The primary introductory material disseminates the collection methods, personal observations, social customs and linguistic observations. In fact, Doi begins the book as an ethnographical analysis of Uzbek social structure, using many simple and common phrases and words translated from Romanized Uzbek to English.

Due to the relatively groundbreaking nature of the study, previous research regarding theoretical models of Western dance analysis may not be appropriate for the interpretation of Uzbek dance. Consequently, Doi employed an experimental approach to explore the social relationships and dance by “…verbal data from the dancers’ life stories, visual and aural data from Uzbek dances, and phenomenological data…” gathered from Doi’s own experience of learning the dances (p. 20).

The various dance groups and social histories were organized from the first dance company in 1929, during the October Revolution and Early Soviet Years of 1924-1942. During World War II and The Postwar Period of 1943-1953, dancers began training for a career in dancing, while also performing openly in theatres and institutes. The Industrialization and Development era of 1954-1990, allowed dancers to strengthen ties with Moscow and open up more dance opportunities with pan-Soviet dance companies. The years of Independence (1991-1994), featured dancers unveiled and performing in public on national holidays, while also struggling to define and examine their collective identities.

Doi explains the role of kinship structure and families as it relates to the interrelationships between greater social idioms and a pursuit of dance. One notable adage found throughout the book describes girls as “a daughter is a guest in her family’s home” (p. 23). This aphorism relates to the fact girls have little power and influence in society, until they are married and have children. However, dancers were not likely to have children or be married.

The role of dance in pre-Soviet times involved mostly private performances with some public performances. Interestingly, pre-Soviet dancing boys often wore women’s clothing during these performances. Doi also touches on feminisms, including arranged marriages, teen marriages, child-rearing and household chores. Yet, the topic of effeminate behaviors for boys and young men were never mentioned. This could be due to Doi’s main concentration involving female dancers, with only a passing mention of boys and their dance structure. Though boys were more prevalent on stage in the early years, with only a few, veiled girls. Nevertheless, the first Uzbek dance troupe was created in 1928 by Muhayiddin Kari Yakubov. This was the vehicle that launched girls and women front and center on stage.

Doi chronicles three very well-known dancers, Tamara Khonim, Roziya Karimova and Mukarram Turghunbayeva. Born in 1906, Tamara Khonim was the first woman in Uzbekistan to perform without a veil. Tamara married her teacher, M. Kari Yakubov, which secured her greater acceptance in society. Unmarried dancers were not seen as noteworthy individuals. Since a girl’s ultimate life goal is to marry, produce children and care for the household and her in-laws. Tamara’s success at folk dancing won her a gold medal at a festival in London, England in 1935. Doi’s biographical look at her life merely introduces us to the dancer and singer called Lady Khonim. A thorough review of her specific dance forms and biographical observations were absent, because she died in 1991 – a year before Doi traveled to Uzbekistan to document Uzbek dance.

Another dancer, Roziya Karimova, was a recruit by the Soviet state. In those days, most of the young girls were recruited for dancing were orphans. She was the daughter of and Uzbek father and Russian mother. M. Kari Yakubov recruited Roziya after seeing her dance in a concert at the technical school. Yakubov insisted she go to Samarkand to learn dance. Roziya went to Samarkand to study dance, play musical instruments, and learn the harakat (117 movements). Roziya’s dancing led to teaching opportunities in the 1930’s. She also sang opera, served in the military, and worked as a choreographer. Doi’s analyses of Roziya’s dance forms were characteristic of the early Soviet years construction of a national Uzbek identity. Roziya performed the Farghana, Bukhara, and Khorezm dances for Doi. However, Doi’s quickly concluded and vague observations of specifics, as the Farghana style was “…soft, light, and lyrical”, the Bukhara style was “…dense, with contained movements strongly connected to the earth”, and the Khorezm style was “playful”.

The last dancer described by Doi, is Mukarram Turghunbayeva. She joined the Uzbek National Dance Company in 1929. According to her biography, released in 1989, she ran away from home to join Kari Yakubov’s company. Her relatively undocumented childhood and family history does not allow for an accurate account of her life as a dancer. However, she founded the Bahor Ensemble, which performed over 200 different works. Mukarram died in 1978, yet Doi managed to interview her close friend. Through her friend, Shirin, we are able to understand the contributions of Mukarram. One of the masterpieces, Tanovar, is a song about national identity, Soviet resistance, and questioning gender roles. Interestingly, Tanovar occurs in eight different variations. The lyrical content describes a young girl waiting for a young boy in a garden. This song is performed by women and another version is performed by men. The role Tanovar played in social change related to public performance of female dancers, which was strictly opposed to traditional, Muslim beliefs.

Doi posits the lives of women were ambiguously influenced by Soviet reforms. The extent of reform that allowed women to dance in public life apparently led to wider available life choices. It is unclear how influential the Soviet reforms expanded the choices of women, since the women were still viewed as ‘girls’ if they did not marry. One exception, involved the circumstances of marriage between two dancers or choreographers. Doi states, “If your husband is a musician, then he is always with you when you are working or traveling…no one can criticize you then” (p. 63). In some way, this was a publicly acceptable form of lifestyle that appeased kinship ties and governmental authority. Importantly, a marriage between dancing parties did not automatically signify a socially approved relationship, as “appearing on stage, even with spousal approval and supervision, drastically lowered a woman’s social standing” (p. 63). From Roziya’s point of view, she believed that, “at that time, I was young…I did not think about freedom or whatever it was called…I lived for art” (p. 63). In effect, we do not know to what extent dance reform changed Soviet rule, or vice versa. That is one limiting factor to consider when dealing with biographical and oral narratives, especially when they are conducted many years after the initial event.

During the so-called “war years” of 1943-1953, the SSR of Uzbekistan began building up their pan-Soviet nationalism with dancers that reflected a unity without giving disparate ethnic groups the stage. Dancers often performed for military personnel during World War II. Consequently, the acceptance of dance was regarded as an important social activity after years of performative oppression and disjointed Soviet direction. Also at this time, dancers were allowed to voluntarily pursue dance as a career and even with familial approval. Yet, dancers in the 1930’s were often orphans and exhibited “God-given talent” and danced “from the heart”. During the 1940’s, dancers could no longer thrive with so-called innate talent, as years of formal training seemed to be the norm. Before the formation of the Soviet state, Dilorum notes, “when there was no Soviet state, women and girls, you, me, and others, stayed in the women’s quarters in the home and wore the veil” (p. 78). In the 1940’s, “when there was a Soviet state, after everyone tore off their paranjis, they became equal…then their dances too became free” (p. 78).

During the 1940’s, dancers went through rigorous and institutionalized training regimens in order to instill a collective identity for socialization and ritualization. Students were expected to learn dances from Farghana, Bukhara and Khorezm over a five year span. Examinations were observed by Doi and a committee, and “it appeared that being of Uzbek origin was advantageous” (p. 86). In addition to the three common styles of dance, the performative arts of ethnic minorities, including the Uyghurs and Karakalpoks, were also learned. Additionally, classical dances and ballets were also taught. The issues plaguing Uzbekistan in the 1990’s were largely confined to Uzbekness and nationalism. Following political independence in 1991, Uzbekistan faced an uncertain direction for dance repertories and national celebrations with women and men at the forefront of these “new” performative arts. In fact, Doi notes, “when I left in 1994, people had begun adding the Qashqa Daryo and Samarkand provinces to the list of major dance styles” (p. 138). The role of dance as part of the global culture is another component that can shape and change the musical arts of Uzbekistan for future generations.

One underlying issue with Doi’s narrative involves a generous use of generalities. This is part of the nature of ahistorical research and socio-cultural research. However, Doi would benefit from a more indepth analysis of each regional style, with descriptions and illustrations of the dance steps. This would have been very helpful in understanding the origins and directions of Uzbek dance from the 1920’s through the 1990’s. Yet, Doi exhibits a restrained voice that does not veer off into topics and material in unfamiliar territory.

One possibility for the generalities may be due to a limited subject pool and the reconstruction of ad hoc events into a current study on the development of social change and dance in Uzbekistan. Another possibility deals with time and coverage. Doi’s limited trips to Uzbekistan to interview dancers and individuals knowledgeable on the social changes of dance through Soviet times may not always be accurate. These generalities and missing information assume a rather linear historical development that at times, may have diverged multilinearly. The rather large job of covering the social aspects of Uzbek dance are possibly too vast and detailed to adequately cover in 150 pages. However, the complexities of anthropological and sociological research warranted a brief treatise on the historical and cultural developments of women, in order for us to understand how Soviet customs affected Uzbek dance. All things considered, Doi presents a fascinating study that considers various thoughts, topics and questions that allow other researchers in Central Asian ethnomusicology to explore the relatively underrepresented field of Uzbek dance.

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