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Kurdish Dance, a Traditional Ritual of Kurdistan

Kurdish dance or "Helperkê" is one of the oldest, and most passionate group dances in the Kurdish regions of Iran.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Introduction to Kurdish Dance

All the countries and tribes of the world have specific dances left from the past, each of which is dedicated to a particular ceremony. Iran also has a high ethnic diversity that each group has its own dance. One of these famous and deep-rooted dances belongs to the Kurds. Kurdish dance or “Helperkê” is one of the oldest, fascinating, and most passionate group dances in the Kurdish regions of Iran derived from a rich and ancient culture that reflects the Kurdish people’s characteristics and spirit and is a symbol of ethnic unity and integrity of all time. The word Helperkê or Helparke means jumping upwards and dancing. A martial dance that people in the past performed hand in hand to prepare and develop physical, mental, and spiritual strength in the battle intervals and on different occasions, showing their combat readiness and solidarity as well. The performance of Halparke while reaping and harvesting, the occurrence of natural disasters, and the praying of Sufis during the Sama Dance strengthen the mentioned aspects of the Kurdish dance’s origin. Circular turning in Folklore Kurdish dance, the pointing of the hands to the sky, which symbolizes ascension and connection to the origin (God), hopping on the ground, and the performers’ rhythm and coordination are the hidden secrets in this local dance.

History of Kurdish Dance

The history of these movements refers to the second and third millennia BC, but there is no specific date and document about how it was created. There is a stone inscription in a castle in Marivan that belongs to the first millennium BC. You can see a depiction of Sorna and Dohol and people who seem to be performing rhythmic movements engraved on the stone; This ancient engraving is a significant document demonstrating the historical nature of these rhythmic movements in Kurdistan. There is no exact date for the origin of the Kurdish dance; however, it has been performed since prehistoric times, based on patterns on pottery discovered in Kurdish areas. In the pre-Islamic era, the dance was performed near the Anahita Temple to commemorate God and to show what had happened during the war.

The Performance of Kurdish Dance

Such a local group dance is part of the theatrical rituals of the Kurdish tribes intertwined with people’s lifestyles. In addition to instilling a sense of unity and solidarity, along with music and colourful cover, it creates charm, vivacity, and a sense of common emotion between dancers and spectators. The techniques of performing this dance are varied, but it is mostly in the form of an incomplete circle of dancers who hold hands and perform gentle knee movements and regular shoulder movements with particular rules. The dancers dance in colourful and glamorous costumes. Women wear headbands, necklaces, earrings, and belts, and men wear clean Giveh shoes, Kurdish clothes, and belts. The dance movements are usually distinctive in mystical-religious ceremonies, celebrations, and weddings. Today, the collection of these dances is called “Chapi or Chupi.” Sarchupi, the last person of Chupi who is in charge of the group’s discipline, has a piece of fabric in his hand. The first person, who knows the dance movements better than the others, shakes the white handkerchief, which is a sign of peace and reconciliation with other tribes, by creating a voice that increases the excitement of the dancers, transmitting the rhythms to the group. Having a handkerchief is the first and last sign of equality, and holding hands is the sign of group unity. The rest of the group is placed in a row next to the Sarchupi without a handkerchief, hand-in-hand.

In these dances, nomadic men and women usually hold each other’s hands in a circle of joy and dance. In Some Kurdish dances, one of the dancers is separated from the others, holding two-coloured handkerchiefs in his hands and playing with them in the middle of the crowd alone; It is called the “Do Dastmaleh” dance, more common in Kermanshah. Kurdish dance is both joyful and honour. No one is at the centre in Kurdish dances; you participate in building a human chain, you are with one person, dancing in groups. You have one person in your hand, but you are not separate from the crowd. Here every woman is next to a man.

Woman: The symbol of life in Kurdish dances without which life is meaningless (one of the meanings of the word “Zan” (woman in Persian) is life in Kurdish).

  • In addition to referring to women’s social role in the group, the presence of women in dance is a symbol of brotherhood and sisterhood between everyone.
  • Hopping on the ground is a threat to the enemy and refers to the land that is the group’s homeland.
  • Hooray, and collective voice to scare the enemy.
  • Sitting during the ceremony means encouraging the enemy to surrender.
  • Raising the head means seeking power from a pure God.
  • If you look at the circle from a distance and see hand-tied individuals together, they are like chains.

Kurdish folklore includes Garyan, Peshtpa, Fata Pashay, Lablan, Khane ‌Miri, Se pa, Helgerten, Se Jar.

Types of Kurdish Dances and Shows

Helgerten: This exciting and lively dance has a fast rhythm to relieve sadness and emphasize happiness and joy in life.

Garyan: means exploring; the movements of this dance are like exploring. Because it starts slowly and gently with the left foot, then it gradually gets faster, and the legs’ movement changes with the rhythm. The dance beautifully demonstrates the philosophy of life, which is to gain experience and is always full of ups and downs. People, after learning in hard situations, must apply what they have learned in life. Such a dance, like some others, tries to change the attitude of human beings towards nature. Garyan has two rural and urban positions and is performed in most Kurdish areas.

Peshtpa: Means behind the foot; This Kurdish dance wants to teach people that they should use the experiences they have gained in life, be sharp and clever so as not to be spurned by anyone. Its rhythm is a bit faster than Garyan and is mostly performed by men.

Fata Pashay: It is a fast and lively dance, which means dance and movement. Through this dance, the Kurds try to thank God for the happiness, success, and blessings they have received in life.

Lablan: After performing Fatah Pashay, Lablan’s dance is so slow and soft because the previous dances were all lively, so this dance is performed to rejuvenate. Lablan brings peace since, after a period of passion, it invites a person to think. Actually, it shows the diversity and transience of emotions in life.

Chepi: Chepi means left, and this dance is performed to strengthen the left part of the body. The left side of the body is less used in daily work, which becomes weak after several years. This Kurdish dance somehow balances the use of all parts of the body. Most Kurdish people in Kermanshah, Sanjabi, and Kurdistan love this dance; In Kermanshah, women are more welcomed Chepi dance.

Sheh Layi: This dance is a sign of a tragedy of failure, and people limping to draw the scene well in front of the viewers.

Khan Amiri: People put their hands up and make a large ring that reminds us of the coordinated flight of birds. In fact, in this dance, the movements of the arms and legs are proportional to each other, and people try to show pride and victory.

Zengi or Zandi: In this Kurdish dance, from the beginning to the end, people take a step forward and then go back. The philosophy of Zandi’s performance is that man should be far-sighted, take slow steps and analyze his actions.

Se Jar: in the native culture of the Kurds, the number 3 is sacred; In this dance, three-foot movements and three forward movements are performed slowly, which are reminiscent of the holy number. Kurdish  dance is divided into two types of religious dance and tribal dance (local dance).

Religious dance; This type of dance, which is so active and passionate, is performed by dervishes and on Tekyehs is known as Sama dance. Dervishes rejoice in the world of the unconscious, accompanied by music through head and neck movements, and listen.

Kurdish Tribal Folklore Dance

Kurdish dance, also called Hilperin, is considered one of the oldest dances. From time immemorial, the people of the Kurdish regions have always been engaged in tribal wars, so they must have a strong body and be mentally refreshed to show their solidarity with the enemy. Hence, they performed the Helperin, a strong magnificent dance, in the interval between the wars.

Music and Dance Among the Kurds

The philosophy of Kurdish dance and its types of music are significant, valuable, and uplifting attractions in the region. Kurdish music is one of the most original, ancient, and Aryan music among the local music of Persia, which has preserved its originality over the centuries and has been less influenced by foreign music. Kurdish music, performed on different occasions and in various contexts of epic, mourning, illness, and celebrations, excites every viewer. The main instruments used in Kurdish music are Daf, Zorna (Sorna), Do Ney, Ney Anban, and Tanbur. Kurdish music has five contexts. Many masters of Persian traditional music are Kurdish, such as Shahram Nazeri, Kayhan Kalhor, Yousef Zamani, and the Kamkars. The Kurdish rhythmic movements are ritualistic, rooted in the religious and social issues of the Aryans and Zoroastrian traditions. Also, they are distinct from other rhythmic movements that have been used for fun and entertainment.

Kurds’ souls and Kurdish dance are intertwined. You can still see a group in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam, holding hands with the least happiness and performing Kurdish dance. The dance is so popular in Iran that all Iranian tribes enjoy it. In many cities of the country, especially in Azerbaijan cities, Kurdish dance is performed at weddings. After playing Kurdish music in celebrations, women and children, old and young, unknowingly perform a stunning Kurdish dance hand in hand. The diversity, richness, and antiquity of Kurdish dance have led to the national register of “Halparke” as the spiritual heritage of Kurdistan province.

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