Globe-trotting Pakistani folk dancer wows the crowds at Expo 2020 Dubai

Gul Bahar shares his incredible journey from performing in his village as a boy to taking centre stage at the world's fair

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When Gul Bahar started dancing in his village as a young boy, he never imagined he would one day be travelling across the globe to perform the Pakistani folk art.

After several trips to China, parts of Europe, the US, Oman and Bahrain, the 47-year-old’s latest gig has brought him to Expo 2020 Dubai.

He attracts a large crowd outside the Pakistan pavilion each night with traditional dance moves from Balochistan – one of the country's four provinces.

Dressed in a flowing, white shalwar kameez, a colourful jacket and a scarf wrapped around his waist, Mr Gul spins for nearly seven minutes as part of the routine.

“I’ve been folk dancing since I was 10 years old. It brings me joy and I feel it is one of the best ways to show off the culture of Balochistan,” he tells The National.

“Folk dancing is something we’re taught from a young age. Our elders did it and now we get to show the world what our culture is about.”

From the 21 types of folk dancing in Balochi culture, Mr Gul performs some of the most popular routines, including Lewa and the Balochi Chap.

Both involve intricate footwork, while clapping or using a special self-made instrument that produces a similar sound. Colourful fringes of yarn attached to the musical tool adds a vibrant touch to the routine.

“We feel so proud performing at the Expo, in front of people who have come from all over the world,” Mr Gul said.

“We have a very strong connection with the Arab region because we also have a strong culture that involves dates, camels and the desert. So, dancing here feels like we are at home.”

Mr Gul and his “band members” are part of the cultural team with the Balochistan government.

Their musical instruments are handmade and include some that are similar to a fiddle or a drum.

The suroz, which is considered to be the national musical instrument of Balochistan, is part of nearly every performance. It is a bowed string instrument with a long neck that is played vertically.

Mr Gul hopes that some of his eight children back home in Pakistan will follow in his footsteps.

“Education is the priority, but it would feel good to know that my children are also passionate about our culture,” he says.

“My eldest son performs with me and the others dance for fun at weddings and other festivities.”

Folk dancing is embedded so deeply in Balochi culture, Mr Gul has even taught his driver and housemaids how to pull off the moves.

For the next few weeks, Mr Gul and his colleagues will be performing daily in the evenings outside the Pakistan pavilion, which is in the Opportunity District.

Then, performers from other parts of Pakistan will show off folk dancing from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit and Kashmir.

Updated: October 10th 2021, 9:22 AM
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