Genghis Khan and the Art of Dance

Zana Gankhuyag and Marilyn Foranei at Ronald Reagan Library, Photo by Alex Havasi

It’s kind of great when you can attend an exhibit, as Marilyn Fordney and her husband, Alex Havasi did, and become totally inspired by it. That’s what happened when our founder and co-founder went to the Ronald Reagan Library to see the limited engagement of the magnificent Genghis Khan Exhibit. It was educational as well as entertaining and an interactive experience.  They loved it!

Now here is where I come in, you see that photo of the dancer with Marilyn Fordney; his name is Zana Gankhuyag. He is a young Mongolian man that is highly trained in ballet, other forms of Mongolian dance and an actor. So, I started looking into the life and times of Genghis Khan and Mongolian dance and found it to be quite unique with a colorful history.

When researching, I noticed when Genghis Khan lived and ruled; his reign

extended over vast territories that included China and large parts of Russia. This had a huge cultural influence on all nearby countries. Since Genghis Khan was a strong and persuasive ruler, nearby countries as well as local regions came to embrace Mongolian national dances. I kept seeing Mongolian national dances described as Biyelgee. Biyelgee means that the dance comes from people spread all over the region and reflects that community’s own customs and ways of living.  And so, it came to be, that Biyelgee, was the national, traditional dance of Mongolia.

One of the most interesting things about Mongolian dance (Biyelgee) is that it is usually done confined to rather small spaces, using half sitting or cross-legged positions. This doesn’t stop the dances

Zana Gankhuyag, Ronald Reagan Library, Photo by Alex Havasi

and dancers from being quite expressive, using hands, shoulders and expressions that identify the different aspects of Mongol lifestyle that distinguish them to their territory, household and beliefs. These people have a lot to say and express it majestically.

The other thing I love about Mongolian dance is the costumes. Mongolian people love color and are not afraid to express their ethnic values by using accessories, embroidery, leather, knitting and quilting, while combining artistic patterns. Choreography can be about love, feelings, birds and animals. There are dances for only women, dances that use martial arts, dances using objects and dances that use only a human voice, just to name a few. Personally, I have never seen such exquisite artistry and majestic vibrancy in costumes combined with the intrinsic movement of dance done so beautifully!

Unfortunately, as the Mongolian people started aging, some of the precious sequences of the national dances started to dissipate. If a young person is to learn how to do Mongol Biyelgee, concerted efforts have to be made by the family for apprenticeships and home schooling. Thus making it somewhat of a fallen art. The younger generations look to more modern forms of dancing. In the mid 1990’s, Rap and Hip Hop started infiltrating Mongolia. It had the usual Western, modern style influences. Also, China has a huge following in the young Mongolian population in their particular brand of Rap and Hip Hop music and dance. But to me, when you see these costumes and incredible dances that the Mongolian people are historically known for, there is no comparison.  Enjoy the ‘Black Stallion’ dance embraced by the younger generation of Kyrgyzstan, where there is a resurgence and appreciation for their folk dances of yesterday and heavily influenced by Mongolian tradition.

I share with you not only Marilyn Fordney and Alex Havasi’s experiences with the Mongolian traditions but also these beautiful and colorful photos and videos of true art in its highest cultural form.

Thought For The Week:

Wealth Is The Ability To Fully Experience Life


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website