Dances are an inseparable part of life for many Kalmyks. No single celebration, a holiday, a major family event, or a party is held without dances. In Kalmykia the most widely performed dances are those performed by individuals or couples, although some dances may be performed in groups. In the past, the Kalmyks had dances for specific age groups, for teenagers and single young people, for young married men and women, and for the elderly. Kalmyk dances differ from one another in terms of movements (for example, some imitate the movements of various animals and birds) and accompanying melodies and songs. There are also dances peculiar to different Kalmyk groups, such dances as 'Dolbana bi', 'Ik hurla bi' and others.
Today, in addition to traditional dances, many stage dances choreographed by ballet masters also enjoy great popularity. These dances, drawing on folklore and ethnographic sources, include famous dances such as 'Derbet tavshur', 'Chichirdyk', 'Dance of heroes', 'Tsagan shavrta bi' and many others.
Boba Kokueva, About How the Kalmyk Youth Danced in Siberia
Boris says that he returned to Kalmykia from Siberia in 1959. He played dombra in the Club of Builders. Later he was invited to join the national ensemble Tyulpan (Tulip), which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2017. With the ensemble Boris travelled to Mongolia, Laos and many parts of the Soviet Union. He also plays on Saratov harmony since 1972 on the advice of Anatoliy Tsebekov.
Boris Ochaev, About the Folk Ensemble Tulip
Evgeniy danced in the children’s dance ensemble Tyulpanchik (Small Tulip). He says that Kalmyk dances differ from Mongolian ones by their fast movements, energy and temper, which is probably an influence coming from the dances of the peoples from the Caucasus. Evgeniy thinks that the Kalmyk dances help Kalmyks release their (abundant) energy. His favorite dances are ishkimdyk and tovshur. Evgeniy reminisces that when he danced on the stage he would fall into such a state of mind in which he felt adrenalin and oblivion.
Evgeniy Sangadzhiev, About Kalmyk Dances
Maria talks about Kalmyk dances and compares how Kalmyks behaved in the past and today. This is what she says:
Men, both old and young, stomp their feet when they dance tavshur (the word derives from tavshkh meaning ‘to stomp’). When dancers swing from one foot to the other, this dance is called mulzhur. People also sing with the dombra instrument. During a dance, girls walk smoothly and lift their hands slowly. Old people also lift their hands slowly during a Kalmyk dance. In the past, women wore dresses called tsegdg or berz. Children also wore traditional dresses and danced mulzhur. Old films show how children danced. Modern dances have incorporated only a small part of traditional dances.
In the past, people showed respect to elders. Older women were addressed as gaga, nagts egch, avg, bergn, but today only as ‘auntie’. In the past, women never got in men’s way. When men talked to each other, women never cut into their conversation. At home women always wore a headscarf and a dress with long sleeves, and never went barefoot. Today, by contrast, women quarrel with men and lecture them. Our elders followed traditions. In our childhood when we ended up in Siberia our mind and soul became Russian, although we looked Kalmyk. That is why today not all people follow traditions. Kalmyk traditions are being forgotten. Kalmyks from China come to visit us. We also travel to Mongolia. In these countries people still live how our ancestors lived. But we are already half-Kalmyk, half-Russian.
Maria Mukhlaeva, About Dances
Ochir talks about the history of Kalmyk dances, how Kalmyk dances are different from those of other Mongolian groups, and demonstrates the main dance movements. Kalmyk dance movements are executed in a clockwise direction only. There are dances performed by single men, by couples, or by groups of women. Different groups in Kalmykia have different dances. For example, sharka-barka and ishkimdyg are Torghut dances; tovshur is Derbet; chicherdyg is a Buzava dance. Kalmyk dances also differ according to the age and gender of the dancers. There are girls' dances (kuukdin bi) and old people's dances (kogshdin bi). Some dances have been named after the places they originate from. For example, erktnya bi is performed by the members of the Erketen clan; or baruna zalusin bi is a dance of the men from the village of Barun.
Ochir also shows the differences between women's and men's dance movements. Women's movements are usually hand movements that are fluid and imitate tulip flowers or flying birds. By contrast, men's movements are more dynamic and include the movement of the legs as well. Kalmyk dances are accompanied by music played on the dombra or Saratov accordion.
Ochir Terbataev, Kalmyk Dance Movements
Ulyana says that in the beginning Kalmyk dance movements were similar to those among other Mongolian groups. Kalmyk dances had more shoulder movements. When the Kalmyks came to Russia their dances were influenced by those of their new neighbors.
As a result, today Kalmyk dances are different from Mongolian dances and involve many new movements, including those done with legs. Kalmyk women’s dances are usually performed smoothly, involving the waiving of both hands that imitate the flight of birds. The sleeves in women’s dance costumes are wide. In contrast, the movement of male dancers is more rhythmic and complex. Men usually imitate horse races, flight, etc. There are dances imitating various animals and birds, including the hare, the eagle etc. Traditionally, Kalmyks dance in pairs of 2 or groups of 4.
At the end of the video Elzyata Vasileva and Aleksandr Puzikov perform chicherdyg and sharka-barka dances.