Today I went back to Ploschad Pionerskaya for my first lesson in lezginka. I was a bit nervous, I have to say. I was worried that I’m too old, too fat, too unfit, too… just… unsuited to all this. I needn’t have worried: it was awesome.
I forgot to mention why there were soldiers at the school: it’s an army building, and the base of a military dance ensemble. The school I’m going to are renting the dance studio from the army. Once again I went through two huge sets of creaky double doors, and into that vast foyer. The same soldier sat on duty at the entry desk, and recognised me. There were two others standing at ease, and there was some discussion amongst them which I couldn’t understand – though I heard reference to ‘balyet Dagestan‘, “Dagestani ballet”… The guy behind the desk, from the Russian Far East by his features, asked me if I knew how to find the room, and waved me on when I said yes. The three of them regarded me in friendly bemusement, perplexed as to why a foreigner who can’t speak Russian should suddenly have turned up to go to a Dagestani dance class… (It probably confused them even further that I was wearing my Joules Gurkha Elephant Polo shirt!)
I walked up the five flights of stairs, as the sound of lezginka music got louder. Sitting outside the door, in a small waiting area, was one of the lads I saw dancing yesterday, grinning broadly as he saw me. The grin grew even wider as I greeted him with ‘Salaam aleikum‘, as Anas had said was their custom. Perhaps it seemed unusual to him that I would use the Arabic but, after four and a half years in Singapore, with Malay Muslim colleagues, friends, and acquaintances, it’s hardly a big deal for me. Hi name is Samir; he’s a dental student.
The music stopped as the women’s class came to an end, and we went in to the studio. It turned out that Samir would be my teacher, and he immediately got me started on the basic steps. Some are fairly straightforward, and I can do them easily. Then he added in the arm postures, which caused me some problems – simply because I have bad coordination, not because they’re difficult as such.
Then we got to moves which did cause me problems.
The first was a pirouette. This has to be done with energy, with the arms fixed in a circle before the body; the eyes remain fixed on a point in front of you as you start – meaning, as your body turns, your neck turns contrary to the spin to keep looking at the same point. When the body has turned round enough that your neck can’t twist any more, you snap your head around to look at the same point from the other direction. Of the three things involved – keep the gaze on one point, keeping the arms fixed and level, and staying upright – I can do a maximum of two at any given moment, it turns out. Well, it’ll come with practice.
The second problem move was related: to move across the room by turning in circles along a straight line. The same problems, with added dizziness. Again, it’ll come. With both of them, I could do the move sometimes, which is encouraging.
Samir, I must say, is an excellent teacher. He speaks reasonably good English, and is relaxed and constantly encouraging. There were a couple of other lads there, one of whom also spoke good English, who were practising with the school’s director, Nurmogamed. He, Nurmogamed, was keeping an eye on me, and often came across to correct me, and demonstrate what I should do.
The class lasted an hour, which was probably enough; I was getting tired and dizzy by that point.
I suggested that I should pay; when my colleague Nika called Numogamed on my behalf, he’d mentioned a monthly fee. To my surprise, he said that they would teach me for free: it was their gift. In return, they asked only that when I was good enough, I’d appear in a promotional video they want to put together. That I happily agreed to. I have to say, over the years, in Asia, Africa, and Russia, I have been constantly amazed at people’s generosity when a dopey Welshman shambles in out of the blue. Yesterday, some of them mentioned that they wanted to learn English; I’ll have to talk to them further about that, and offer them lessons without charge, as my own gift. We’ll see.
Anyway, the lessons for me will only be on Sundays, not Saturdays. I’ll have to practice my pirouettes a lot before next weekend…
Image credit: Georgian Dance, by user George Kvizhinadze on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license. (I know, Georgia isn’t in Russia, and it’s not Dagestan – but lezginka is common to most of the cultures of the Caucasus).