Dance has been an integral part of human civilization since its inception, although in varying forms and styles. It is a way of expressing joy and jubilation, and is performed through moving the body parts rhythmically and systematically, often to music. Dance helps in releasing energy, feeling relaxed, in connecting with other people, enjoying the moment. It often expresses aesthetic ideas through artistic performance.
Pakistani culture is quite rich in dances, as different parts of the country have different cultural and folk dances. A folk dance is defined as a type of dance that reflects the past traditions of any particular society or an area. Folk dances like Bhangra, Dhamal, Attan, Luddi, and Jhumar are a few of the more famous folk dances in Pakistan that have evolved over the centuries.
Bhangra has originated in Sialkot, and is mostly performed in Punjab and the northern parts of India. Bhangra is usually performed in the form of a group where several dancers perform a series of kicks, and bends of their bodies. The dance also includes vigorous movements of arms and shoulders. Bhangra is mostly performed on the beat of the dhol and was initially performed by the farmers of Punjab during the harvesting period. People in Punjab performed Bhangra as a sense of accomplishment of their yearly agricultural work and to welcome the harvesting season during the Vaisakhi Festival. Today, Bhangra is a source of cultural expression in Punjab and has revolutionized itself into the modern mainstream music and dance industry too, especially the Bollywood, Lollywood and the Punjabi films.
Dhamal is one of the most popular folk dances in Sindh and is often associated with the Sufis. Dhamal consists of rapid head, leg and hand movement in synchronous with the beat of the dhol. Dhamal is always performed on the beats of a drum and people can be seen performing Dhamal at various Sufi shrines in Sindh. Thousands of devotees can be seen ecstatically performing Dhamal at the shrine of Lal Shehbaz Qalandar every year. Lal Shehbaz Qalandar is believed to have performed Dhamal himself many times, just like the whirling dervishes of Rumi’s followers. It aims to bring a person’s mind, body and soul closer to God. This improvised dance expresses the dancers’ devotion to the Almighty, often listening to a Qawwali or a Sufi song.
Attan is a famous Pakistani folk dance performed in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Baluchistan. Performed mostly by the Pakhtun community in Pakistan, the dance originated in Afghanistan and is considered the national dance in Afghanistan. It also has Zoroastrian roots, as according to the folklore, King of Iran, Yama, is believed to have performed Attan with his soldiers on Nawroz. Attan was performed by soldiers before going to wars in the Khyber region, as it instils confidence and energy amongst the warriors. Moreover, Attan was considered a part of the resistance movement against the British occupation of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The Pakhtun people usually perform Attan at weddings or other celebrations. The dance is performed in the form of circular groups and it consists of a slow and rhythmic hand and legs movement with full and half round body movement turns. It has diverse styles and types, as it is performed differently by different tribes and genders wearing different attires.
Luddi is also one of the most popular folk dances in Punjab. Like Bhangra, Luddi is also performed in the form of a group, and is performed at weddings and other joyful events. The dance consists of lower body movements with slight involvement of arms and body turns. Mostly popular amongst the Sardars of Punjab, the dancers traditionally wear loose shirts and tie their head with a scarf or a turban. The beat at which Luddi is performed is also quite similar to that of Bhangra. Unlike Bhangra, Luddi is performed mostly by women at mehndi functions. Several songs have also been made about Luddi, including “Luddi hai Jamalo”, an iconic Madam Noor Jehan song from the film Sahib Jee (1983), to which women danced in the ‘1980s.
Jhumar is also one of the many popular traditional dances of Punjab, mostly in the Seraiki region. The name “Jhumar” comes from the word Jhum, which means swinging. The dance is similar to Bhangra, but is slow and rhythmic. It is performed in the form of groups mostly at wedding ceremonies. The dance is popular in some regions of Baluchistan as well, where it is mostly performed by males in a slow tempo. The dance includes the movements of arms along with feet. Jhumar, similar to other traditional folk dances, is also performed with the beats of a dhol. The traditional attire for ladies performing Jhumar is Lehnga Choli and Shalwar Ghera for men.
Traditional dances have survived and evolved in Pakistan despite many cultural and political impediments. Dances like Attan, Bhangra, Jhummar, Luddi and Dhamal continue to be popular, and it is hoped that these traditional dances with roots in our culture will continue to flourish.