19 January 2009

A Uighur Dance Hall in Urumqi

From Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China, by Blaine Kaltman (Ohio U. Press, 2007), pp. 56-57:
In Urumqi, Han bands often learn Uighur songs and perform at Uighur bars. Most of these are Uighur-owned and Uighur-operated and have an almost entirely Uighur staff and clientele, although there are usually a few token Han waiters and customers. The musicians performing Uighur songs at these bars, however, are almost always Han.

There is also a disco in Urumqi that has a Uighur clientele but whose owner is Han. The staff is all male and almost entirely Han. However this does not dissuade Uighur from coming—and coming in droves—every night of the week. Between 11:30 p.m. and 3:00 a.m., the disco is packed.

The DJ is a Uighur woman, and all announcements are made in the Uighur language. She plays Uighur popular music, with a few Russian and Indian songs mixed in. I never heard any Han songs played. Toward the end of the night, an occasional American pop song is played—Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys. After every fourth or fifth song, the dance floor clears, and a Uighur dance team—sometimes two men and two women, sometimes three women, all dressed in traditional Uighur outfits—performs traditional dances. Although the music is traditional, a computerized dance beat is almost always mixed beneath it. And even though the Uighur women hold candles during some of the dances, modern strobe lights still flash to illuminate and intensify the performance.

The disco's clientele on any given night is entirely Uighur. Most of the patrons are in their mid- to late twenties, although there are some older people and a few families who bring their teenage children. Some of the older women wear head scarves and long sleeves, although most female patrons, regardless of age, dress in jeans or skirts. The women in this disco do not dress as revealingly—or formally, for that matter—as Han women typically do in Han discos.

Most of the dancing, despite the modern music, has an air of traditionalism. Uighur spread their arms like wings and circle each other with pride. During slow songs, men and women dance together. Women also dance with other women, and sometimes men dance with men. The women who wear head scarves usually dance with other women. Occasionally they dance with men, probably their husbands. However, when these women dance with a man, they dance without touching.

According to the disco's owner, "Han don't usually come here because they don't like Uighur music. Maybe they think it's interesting at first, but they prefer modern Han music. I opened this place because I had been in other Uighur discos and knew they could make money. Uighur don't mind who runs their disco, they just want a place to go play."

1 comment:

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