'First the Eyes Dance': Practices and Aesthetics of Traditional Dance in Achara (Georgia)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


Traditional dance practices in rural Georgia manifest complex relationships between (often older) bodies, histories, imaginaries, lifeways and landscapes, prompting reflections on how things that happen in the material and social world shape dance aesthetics. The mountainous region of Achara is renowned for its energetic folk dances and high concentration of amateur ensembles. Geopolitical shifts subjected Acharans to a long history of Turkish domination – including conversion to Islam – as well as the more recent imposition of Soviet infrastructures and ideologies. Life in Achara today is defined by physical movement: hard labour in the fields, dancing at weddings and festivals, and seasonal migration between the permanent villages of Upper Achara, summer villages on the high alpine pastures, and the coastal city of Batumi with its offers of work, study and escape from snowbound winters. How has this history of movement – physical, cultural, religious, ideological – shaped choreographic practices and performance contexts? Interviews with choreographers provide fascinating insights into the origins of specific dance motifs, the ways in which knowledge of how differently-aged bodies move informs local variants of dances like Gandagana, the comparative importance of engaging different parts of the body in performance, and the challenges brought by COVID-19. I reflect on how costume design relates to both regional identity and dance moves, and on the juxtaposition between the costumed body as spectacle and how the body within is shaped by the physical and environmental conditions of the dancer’s life. Interviews with ensemble members reveal multifaceted connections between dance, health, wellbeing and longevity.
Period13 Apr 2023
Event titleBritish Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Achara (Georgia)
  • traditional dance
  • folk choreography
  • dance and health
  • dance and longevity