Posted by: Dr Martha Eddy | December 7, 2009

Community Development, Women and Dance in Northern Pakistan

From the moving desk of Deborah Heifetz

Dance to connect

Embody Peace Update

By Deborah Heifetz,  Ph.D., CMA

October 20, 2009

Tel Aviv, Israel



In Pakistan, we are developing a mentoring/coaching program as well as a Learning and Training Center.  I’m working directly with the woman who is in charge of the Local Support Organization – a graduate from the University of Karachi – who introduces herself as “a radical feminist”.  My work with her at this point is via e-mail and phone via our local Pakistani staff since there are many impediments for me to get back to Pakistan at this time.  We were together over the summer and the work of the community is focused on basic issues of women’s empowerment – home financing, self-awareness and encouraging entrepreneurial enterprise.  Body-related issues are particularly related to health and hygiene – but not only.   There are traditional skin products the older women use and you can see a glow in their faces that lack in the younger women, who have been soaped and store-bought creamed out.  The older women are filled with stories of traditional medicinal remedies and beauty traditions – but do not see themselves as a resource because of their illiteracy, and thus, their sense of self-deprecation.   But that said, there is no running water in this Valley of 4000 meters!   So the cold does not make cleanliness via water very conducive during the freezing winter. 


Girls in the Chipursan Valley are better off than most – but this is due to the overriding impact of the Aga Khan and the homogeneity of the Ismaeli community, which is conducive for social change in the direction of enhanced well being. 


Additional reflections: Nov 2009

I would like to add a few observations about the dance, given that the Ismaili’s are Sufis and the ecstatic movement of repetitive circling and increasing speed is present.  However I must qualify my comments as cursory and but an initial analysis.  I need both video and more time studying, dancing and watching the dance to more fully describe the movement, its meaning and the experience of the movement for me and for the people.  In the meantime I can offer some descriptions by memory.  Men dance in a consistent choreographed  progression, beginning in lines and rows facing the musicians and gradually sequencing into a larger circle dance, twirling on their own vertical axis at increasing speed and as the music intensifies both in volume and rhythm.  Their movement range is both large and individually expressive, gentle hand gestures, at times with level changes. Their chests open and hands and arms extended to middle and far reach.  The men take up space for they do not dance touching each other.  As the men create a circle, one man leads and the leadership alternates so that eventually all men have a chance to lead the dance initiating movement qualities and sequences that the other men should try to follow. They are free to adapt to each other’s movement with wonderful variations in the range of motion, flow patterns, integrated movement, effort life. They are fully present in space – reaching out towards the musicians, keeping attentive to each other, carving and directing into space. Little pelvic movement but full bodied in expressiveness. Although patterned, within the dance’s structure men express nuances of poise, skill, power and joy.  Many songs bring men to the dancefloor, but only one song does so for the women.   The women’s dance, as far as I currently know, is limited to one dance – at least in the public space. The song and dance called “simisai’ is a wedding dance and song.  In contrast to the open circle, women create a closed circle, facing inward towards each other, slowly slowly ever so slowly moving counter-clockwise, drawing from a minimal range of footwork.  You can see in the picture that women’s movement range is very condensed.  I have not yet danced with them, so I can’t really describe what it feels like.  However, in the several occasions where I witnessed the performance, I was struck by how the embraced women kept all body parts in near reach space, including each other and that they seemed to exert a grounding – sinking their weight down gradually, an effort/time pattern fortified by the strength and tightness of their circle.  Their hands are also expressive, giving a very Persian-like hand gesture, lightness and indulged time from the wrists and fingers.  That said, their expressive range was so remarkably limited particularly in contrast to the men that it was painful for me to watch.   I’ve asked our Pakistani team to send me the words of the song ‘simisai’ in order to better understand the meaning and implication of the dance for the people dancing.   My sense is that there is sadness in the words – a longing and loss since the dance reinforces the condensing inward of women’s lives and lacks reaching out into the future.  But I must be cautious not to project what I know about their lives and their hardships onto their dance.  Posted by EmbodyPeace for Deborah Heifetz



  1. DR Heifitz is on a new panel – watch it here to learn about the role of dance in conflict and reconciliation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: