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Loveliness and Grace -- Charm of the Desert Oasis

Oases are like beautiful islands in the boundless desert, and the oasis Culture gives out light of human wisdom.

In 138 B.C., Zhang Qian was sent by Emperor Hanwu to the Western Regions (the area west of Yumenguan during the Han Dynasty, including what is now Xinjiang and parts of the Central Asia) and developed the Silk Road which connected the East and West in relation to economies and Cultures. As a result, many musical dances came through the desert to the imperial courts of the Han and Tang dynasties and then to inland areas of China. The exquisite skill and unique charm infatuated thousands of people and are still spread widely today.

Because of the special geographic location of Xinjiang relative to the Silk Road, its people are good at singing and dancing the musical dances derived from the Silk Road. "Yutian Music" (now popular in Hotan area), "Yizhou Music" (now popular in Hami area), "Yueban Music" (now popular in northwestern Yili), "Qiuci Music" (now popular in Kuqa area), "Shule Music" (now popular in Kashi area) and "Gaochang Music" (now popular in Turpan area), can still be found in today's Xinjiang local dances. Besides, the "Huxuan", "Huteng" and "Zhezhi" dances as depicted in Tang poems and the traditional music and dances remain in the Cultures of the Uygur, Uzbek and Tajik nationalities.

Before the sea transportation was developed in the Song and Ming dynasties, residents along the Silk Road were engaged in farming and herding. Due to the small area of oases, however, they did not have enough products and had to be supplied by businessmen passing through. As a reward, the residents provided them with food and accommodations while entertaining them with dancing. The so-called oasis culture developed under such historical and geographical conditions that it contains not only the harmony and grace of farming culture, the straighhorwardness and vigor of prairie culture, but also a commercial culture developed from entertaining the businessmen. Since the music and dances combine artistic attributes of both the East and the West, they form a unique charm, which can be clearly seen in Uygur folk dances. The Uygur folk dances feature vibrating rhythm, diversified movements and superb skill. The regular and continuous vibration of knees shows the local people's method of walking in the desert. The diversified movements absorb the essence of the musical dances in the Western Regions, and the skills in jumping, spinning and waist twisting are all developed from the "Huteng", "Huxuan" and "Zhezhi" dances. The "Maixirepu" evolved from the "banquet musical dances" of the Western Regions.

"Maixirepu" is a Uygur word meaning "gathering happily and recreating". It is a kind of activity with impromptu music and dances on Joyous festivals when people gather together. The activity is presided over by an elder, interluded with poems composing, riddles guessing and joke telling. When the music begins, people invite each other to dance. The host often provides food. Young people perform the "goatdance" or the "goose dance" to enliven the atmosphere.

In the "goat dance", the young performers use simple stage goat-like props. The performers acting like goats arrive quietly behind the audience. They jump onto the dancing field, eating grass, drinking water, rubbing horns and goring people, which always draw laughter.

In the "goose dance" performers wear their leather clothing inside Out, put their right hands into their sleeves and wrap them with red cloth. Like a goose, they walk falteringly onto the dancing field. The audience then sings commending or derogatory songs. When the goose is praised, he dances happily; when he is degraded, he pecks the singer The dance is funny and lively. During the activity, the young people learn about the folk customs, rituals and dances. other dances such as "Sainaimu" "DuolangWu" and ',Nazierkumu" are also found in "Maixirepu".

"Sainaimu" is prevalent throughout Xinjiang. It is a general term for their type of music and dance. People like to put the name of a place in front of it, Such as the "Kuqa Sainaimu", "Kashi Sainaimu" and "Hotan Sainaimu". There are big differences in the music and dancing styles. The commonly-found movements are "snapping the fingers", "moving necks","raising eyebrows" and "moving eye-balls", which were depicted as "Huwu" (western regions' dance) by Du You of the Tang Dynasty. (Fig.2-28)

"Duolangwu" is popular in the Markit and Bachu areas on the edge of the Tarim Basin, where the Uygur call themselves "Duolang". The music is "Duolang Mukamu" (a big divertimento), accompanied by sonorous male singing. Usually the dancers are in pairs, and the number is limited. There are four groups of actions. The first is in six-eight time, slow and rhythmic, with apparent shivering of knees: the second and third groups of actions become quicker, bold and powerful, with standard and rigorous movements, such as "pulling the bow and shooting from horse". The fourth group is allegro. Two performers compete with each other in spinning, pushing the dance to a climax. Audiences applause and shout to cheer them on. Finally, the one with the most superb spinning skill is left. The vibrating movements and the sonorous songs through the whole dance remind people of the hard efforts made by the Uygur people in fighting against draught and in developing new oases. (Fig.2-29)

The "Nazierkumu" was a popular dance in Huozhou (Fire Prefecture) of the Western Regions (now Turpan area). People danced in pairs, accompanied by string instruments and songs. The dance is divided into two parts. In the first part, dancers imitate actions of "making noodles", "soling a shoe" or "duck walking" in a humorous way. They also imitate actions of their counterpart in an exaggerate way. In the second part, one dancer in a pair demonstrates his or her unique skill in an effort to triumph over the other. Audiences shout encouraging words, adding to the fun. Performers "shake shoulders and get near", or "spin with hands on knees", exhibiting many similarities with the "Black Bear Fighting" dance, but the rhythm is the same as yangko. This is the result of inter-affection and inter-absorption of all kinds of dances and reflects the national unity of Turpan, for it has been inhabited by several ethnic groups since the Tang and Song dynasties. (Fig.2-30)

The Tajik nationality lives in Taxkorgan Autonomous County of Xinjiang, a strategic pass in the Pamirs through which the ancient Silk Road crosses. Because of the isolation caused by rugged mountains, its music and dances have not changed too much since the ancient times. What's more, these music and dances are integrated with the Plateau culture characteristics. The Tajik people look on the hawk as a strong, heroic symbol, so they perform like a hawk frequently in their dances, of which the most typical one is "Qiafusuzi".

"Qiafusuzi" in Tajik language means quick and skillful. It is a seven-eighth time for both the music and the dance. At first, one dancer goes onto the field and dances. Then he invites another They begin to move forward slowly with their arms spread, like two eagles hovering. When the music turns quick, they chase and play with each other Once they get close, they spin away immediately. They rise or squat suddenly, or Jump while spinning. The women dances are much softer, but also imitate hawks. (Fig.2-31 )

The accompanying instruments include the eagle flute and the shougu (small drum similar to the tambourine). Two musicians play eagle flutes alternatively and two women beat the shougu. The eagle flute is made from the wing bone of an eagle, left over from the "bone flute" in ancient times. The sound is melodious and pleasant. The performance, also done by pairs of dancers, presents the skill of squatting jump and spinning In many aspects, it is similar to "Huxuan" and "Huteng" dances recorded in history books and the Tang poems.

The Tajik nationality has a small population, and a not-fully-developed farming and herding economy, but its dancing skill is highly developed and the musical dances that remain are rich and colorful.

In tracing the dances of Chinese ancestors, there is a glimpse of colorful folk dances among Chinese minority nationalities. They are utterly different but at the same time integrate with and penetrate into one another. Dances of 56 nationalities were born in primitive time, propagated by the masses and given a new style one generation after another The historical progress, social and natural evolution have changed the function and form of different dances, but these dances still reflect the art and wisdom of each nationality. The dances still entertain people today. Meanwhile, they are an inexhaustible treasure for today's art creation.

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