Source: Global Times [16:18 July 20 2009]
Sanam is the most popular folk dance among all the Uygurs in Xinjiang. It mainly originated in southern Xinjiang with its advanced agriculture and culture and a dense population of Uygurs. In forming the Uygur classic music called the Twelve Mukam, Sanam was included, thus it must be even older than the centuries-old Mukam. At the same time Sanam was popularized among the Uygurs as an independent dance.
At weddings, on festive occasions and at parties people invariably dance Sanam. For instance, at a song and dance party the whole village, old and young, men and women, relatives and friends, joins in the dance. One family plays host for each party. The dancing and singing are kept going with games of passing flowers, wine cups or belts. Sometimes a performance of Mukam songs and riddles or a recitation of poem is included.
On the first day of a wedding celebration friends on both sides invite the bridegroom and their relatives to their homes. In the evening the bridegroom and his friends go to the bride's home to welcome the bride. A band plays as they go singing and dancing on their way. Throughout the day Sanam is the main form of singing and dancing.
In a performance of Sanam people sit in a circle with a band in one corner. As people clap their hands and sing in unison, the dancers dance. Besides singing the familiar old songs, they improvise new verses to old melodies to describe the festive scene and their joyous feelings.
The dancers also improvise, following the tempo of the music. One, two, three or five people dance together. The tempo quickens gradually until music and dance reach their climax and people shout, "Kai-na! (Come on!)" or "Balikaleila! (Wonderful!)" The shouting, drumming and music create great excitement.
Since 1949 and release from feudal ethics Uygur women have joined in the mass Sanam dance.
The movements are graceful, elegant and varied, determined by the music, tempo and occasion. The primary feature is coordination of different parts of the body --- head, shoulders, wrists, waist and legs. For instance, head movements include turning the neck and shaking. The wrists revolve, cross and perform wavelike movements. Waist movements include lifting the chest, turning sideways, bending backward. Leg movements are more varied, including pointing the toe, kicking backward, stamping and turning. Most movements in Sanam come from life, such as "holding a hat," "rolling up sleeves," "picking up one's skirt," "looking into the distance with one hand on the forehead" and "putting one hand on the chest." Owing to limited space for performance, Sanam has developed the coordination of different parts of the body and various postures to express the dancers' joyful feelings.
The steps feature controlled but not stiff knees and flexible, lignt movements of the legs, closely coordinated with the drumbeat. The most common sequence of steps is three steps forward and one backward kick, the legs steady but shivering slightly. The fourth step, when the performer slides his foot on the ground and kicks backward, is neat and lively.
One often sees old men and necks and shaking their heads when happy. Such movements have been assimilated into Sanam.
Differences in dialect, natural surroundings, historical background and customs have produced varied styles of Sanam in different places. In some areas the Sanam performed in cities and towns is different from that performed in rural areas. Sanam performed in Kashi is typical of southern Xinjiang and is noted and the refined movements of the different parts of the body. The gestures are extremely varied. Sanam performed in lli is representative of the Sanam in northern Xinjiang. With elements drawn from the dances of other ethnic minorities, the Ili Sanam is known for its boldness, abrupt stops and comic touches. The Sanam in Hami is typical of eastern Xinjiang. Its slow tempo has an unusual 5/8 beat. The steps are sedate, and the dancer usually simply holds his half-clenched hands over his head. Since the dance takes on different characteristics in different places, people usually refer to it as Kashi Sanam, Ili Sanam, etc.
The accompaniment has evolved from the folk music in different places. It is melodious and expressive, with striking rhythm. The instruments usually include tambur, rawap, dutar (all plucked stringed instruments), satar, a bowed stringed instrument, and dup (tambourines). The tambourines control the speed. The sound of the instruments spreads far and wide.