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“We were a very mixed lot….” With these words, Kurban Said began his famous novel “Ali and Nino.” He was, ostensibly, speaking of the hero’s schoolmates, but in a broader sense he described the complex multi-ethnic reality of Azerbaijan.

As a tribute to this diversity, Silk Road Dance Company created a special program of dances for Azerbaijan Republic Day. The first dance, the Tat duet Astarho, echoed the legacy of chivalry for which the Caucasus is known. Like Ali and Nino, the two dancers themselves represented different heritages; Valeriya Nakshun comes from a Kavkazi Jewish Tat family and Ahmad Maaty is an Egyptian-American Muslim. The song lyrics in the Tat language served as a reminder of the linguistic multiplicity of the Caucasus that so confounded ancient Greeks, that they dubbed the region the ” mountain of tongues.”

For the second piece, the ensemble performed an energetic, all-female Yalli from Naxchivan, birthplace of former President of the Azerbaijan Republic, Heydar Aliyev. The ancient city of Naxchivan, home to many different ethnic and religious groups, endured invasions by Arab, Persian, Turkish, and Mongol armies. The inspiration for presenting this spirited dance came after Silk Road Dance Company’s Artistic Director Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray saw historic footage of the Chinar Group performing the dance. The soloist was Alagoz Salakhova, grand-daughter of legendary People’s Artist of the USSR, Tamara Khanum, the famous dancer who was the first in Uzbekistan to perform in public. By coincidence, Gray had become acquainted with Tamara Khanum in the 1980’s, when she was the first American guest in the artist’s home. Later, Gray met other family members, including Alagoz. Adding this dance to the ensemble’s repertoire created a connection to the lineage of Tamara Khanum as well as to the cultural heritage of Naxchivan.

And perhaps, most appropriately, a program celebrating diversity seemed appropriate since members of Silk Road Dance Company hail from a variety of countries and cultures from both East and West. They, too, “are a very mixed lot.”



by Gordiya Khademian


On June 5, 2016, Silk Road Dance Company helped represent Iran at the Fiesta Asia street fair in Washington DC. This was the first time Iran has ever been represented at Fiesta Asia, thanks to the hard work of a group of young Iranian-American professionals in the Washington, DC area.

After an initial procession of costumes and banners down Pennsylvania Avenue, representing countries across the continent of Asia, Silk Road Dance Company first performed on the main stage, with the impressive Capitol Building creating a striking image behind them. Their performance, choreographed by Dr. Laurel Gray, consisted of three selections: Spring Rain in the Rose Gardens of Esfahan -a classical-style Persian dance to instrumental music; a Balochi folkloric dance; and a contemporary Persian dance to Moein’s Zendegi ba Toh.

Silk Road Dance Company performed again at the Iran tent for a smaller, more intimate audience. The day was filled with energy and excitement as people learned more about Iran’s diverse culture, dress, music, and dance. It was an honor to be able to share this heritage in our nation’s capital. .


Washington, DC . An Edwardian-themed evening on February 19th will celebrate the Silk Road expeditions of Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, accompanied by Persian and Central Asian dance performances.

On February 19th, theatre goers will have the opportunity to travel back in time to celebrate the spirit of exploration along the Silk Road. Set in the Edwardian age, the evening at the Arts Club of Washington features a “guest appearance” by the famous Swedish explorer Sven Hedin who will share accounts of his most exciting adventures. Woven throughout the evening will be traditional dance performances by Silk Road Dance Company from the very places Hedin visited, such as Baku, Tehran, and Samarkand.

Known as “the œlast of the great explorers,”Sven Hedin made five journeys to Silk Road regions, including Persia and Central Asia – between 1885 and 1908. He was a prolific writer whose exciting travel accounts captured the public imagination and increased Western awareness of many places, like the Taklamakan desert, that had earlier been just a “white space” on the map.

Baltimore-based actor Sean Coe will portray the man who was the last Swede to be raised to the nobility in recognition of his scientific contributions. Performances by Silk Road Dance Company in beautifully costumed dances will enhance the ethnographic aspect of Hedin’s explorations..

Guests at the concert will be greeted with live Afghan music performed by Tabla for Two, a talented duo that draws upon Central Asian musical traditions. Those who attend the soiree are encouraged, but not required, to dress for the event in their best Edwardian attire – think Downton Abbey – or in traditional Silk Road styles. Another option is to pose for pictures in costumes from the Silk Road photo corner.

The term “Silk Road”  – or seidenstrasse – was originally coined by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, who recognized the economic and cultural significance of the ancient trade routes. His student, Sven Hedin, extensively explored and mapped vast expanses of the Silk Road. Although Hedin’s primary contributions were in the geosciences, his accurate sketches and photographs of the people he met, as well as detailed written accounts, have proven to be ethnographic treasures.

Event organizer, Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray, the Artistic Director of Silk Road Dance Company, planned the evening to coincide with the 150th jubilee of the Swedish explorer who was born in Stockholm on February 19, 1865.  “There seems to be a renewed interest in Hedin’s scientific contributions,” she notes. “Thanks to funding from the National Geographic Society, the Sven Hedin Project has launched expeditions following in the footsteps of Sven Hedin. And the term Silk Road has become quite popular, from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project to the US State Department’™s New Silk Road Initiative. It may be time for a new generation to discover the individual who devoted so much of his life to exploring the region.”


Silk Road Dance Company    A Joy of Motion Resident Arts Partner
Tabla for Two                
Sven Hedin                   

Silk Road Dance Company from an early performance. Nyla, who suggested the name for the ensemble, is shown in green on the far right.

Silk Road Dance Company from an early performance. Nyla, who suggested the name for the ensemble, is shown in green on the far right.

Evoking images of exotic places and treasure-laden caravans, the Silk Road appeals to the popular imagination. Over the past decade, Silk Road cultures have gained new audiences with an increased awareness of the history and geography of the region. Much of the credit for this goes to cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the seeds that were sewn when he launched his Silk Road Project in 1998.

Momentum gathered with the epic 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. This wildly successful event was entitled The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust and “celebrated the living traditional arts of peoples of Silk Road lands.”

But Silk Road Dance Company®, founded in 1995, traces its roots to an even earlier source of inspiration – a 1982 performance at the Asia Society in New York. Although Laurel Victoria Gray, who later founded the Silk Road Dance Company, did not attend this concert, she learned of it when a fellow graduate student in the PhD program at the University of Washington handed her clipping from that week’s New York Times. It was the October 29, 1982, article by Jennifer Dunning “In Song and Dance Along the Silk Route,” illustrated with a photograph of one of the concert’s female performers.

For Gray, who was already deeply involved in ethnic dance of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, reading the article was a galvanizing moment. “For years I had been searching for descriptors for the dances in my personal repertoire and that of my ensemble,” Gray explains. “All the terms seemed so lengthy and awkward. When I saw the title of the New York Times article, everything came into focus. Of course, I knew about the Great Silk Road, and how it was the connective thread that united these diverse cultures. From that moment on, I began to use the term ‘Silk Road’ to identify my work.”

Gray had fallen in love with Uzbek dance when she met People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Qizlarhon Dusmuhamedova in 1979 and attended her performance with the Bakhor Ensemble at Seattle University. She added Central Asian dance to the growing repertoire of her group which she renamed Tanavar Dance Ensemble in 1982 in honor of a famous genre of Uzbek women’s dances. Soon their concerts and publicity identified them with the cultures of the Silk Road.

Gray returned to Uzbekistan in 1984 as a cultural representative with a Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Delegation led by Mayor Charles Royer. At the invitation of Uzbekistan Vatan Society, Gray traveled to Uzbekistan to continue her dance studies. In 1988 and 1989, Uzbekistan’s Union of Theatrical Workers invited her to bring delegations as part of an ongoing cultural exchange program, causing Gray to identify Seattle as “a new stop on the ancient Silk Road.”

In 1986, Gray released “An Introduction to Uzbek Dance,” the first volume in a proposed “Dances of the Silk Road” video series. New York Times dance critic, Jennifer Dunning, noted that this video “focuses on women’s dance but offers intriguing looks at the basic arm gestures and characteristic movements of the forms as well as the costumes, jewelry and music associated with the dances.”

Later in the 80s, Gray visited New York and was invited to visit the Asia Society by Beate Gordon, who had seen the first volume of Dances of the Silk Road. “It was such an honor,” remembers Gray. “And it also gave me a sense of connecting to an important source of my inspiration.”

When Gray left Seattle in 1992 to continue her dance studies in Uzbekistan for two years, Tanavar Dance Ensemble gave a few more performances but waited for Gray’s return. She did come back to Seattle for several months before relocating to the East Coast in the summer of 1994.

As Gray began to meet and work with Washington DC area dancers, a small core of students expressed an interest in exploring Central Asian and Persian dance in greater depth. And when the dancer Nyla approached her about performing for Persian weddings, Gray saw the opportunity to create a Washington DC-based performance group.

Soon auditions were held and students began to learn Gray’s repertoire. They also gathered to work on building more costumes. Gray brought several of the Tanavar Dance Ensemble costumes with her from Seattle, but needed new ones for additional choreographies.

But what to name the group? Gray considered reviving the name Tanavar since the Seattle group was inactive, but it was Nyla who made the fateful suggestion. Laurel recalls the moment. Nyla said “you are always talking about the Silk Road, so why don’t you call us ‘Silk Road?”’

And Nyla was right so, in 1995, Silk Road Dance Company was born.

The tiny group graduated from weddings to their first public concert – “Persian Night”- held on February 6, 1996. By 2001, Silk Road Dance Company made it to the Kennedy Center stage for the first time.

The ensemble’s continued success convinced Gray to register “Silk Road Dance Company” as a trademark, which was accomplished thanks to a student who was also an attorney and arranged for her firm to help on a pro bono basis. The process proved to be a time-consuming task, but fortunately Gray’s academic training in history taught her to save documentation, helping to prove their long existence. In 2005, the the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a Certificate of Trademark Registration to this organization for the mark “Silk Road Dance Company (R).”

It has been an exciting journey but it is one that is far from over. Silk Road Dance Company® has performed in 15 different states and also in four foreign countries, at the invitation and expense of celebrated hosts.

“So many events converged to make this all happen,” reflects Gray. “From my first meeting with Qizlarhon to the New York Times article, from my move from Seattle to Washington DC, to my student who facilitated our trademark – all these things look like kismet.

Yes, it must be kismet. Fate.

In 2005, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a Certificate of Trademark Registration to this organization for the mark “Silk Road Dance Company (R)” This federal trademark registration empowers and obligates the Silk Road Dance Company to police the use of this mark and to prevent any confusingly similar use. By federal statute anyone violating the rights of a trademark registrant is subject to paying the attorneys’ fees and up to triple damages to the holder of the trademark registrations.

Further, in accordance with the U.S. Internal Revenue Code requirements, the name “Silk Road Dance Company (R)” is not available for use to promote commercial endeavors or unauthorized nonprofit activities. This prohibition extends not only to express statements of promotion, but also to implied statements of promotion.

In addition, all materials on the website of Silk Road Dance Company(R) are protected under copyright law and are not available for use by others without the written consent of the copyright holder.


by Miriam Asmerom

On Thursday, May 23, 2013, the city of Takoma Park will screen the film of the folkloric ballet, Haft Paykar: Seven Beauties, performed by Silk Road Dance Company. Created by Takoma Park resident. Laurel Victoria Gray, this dance concert features choreography and costuming inspired by seven different Eastern cultures.

Gray’s work is based on Nizami Ganjavi’s poem Haft Paykar (“seven beauties”) is remembered as one of the great narrative epics of medieval Middle Eastern culture. Although Nizami lived in the city of Ganj – located in present day Azerbaijan – he wrote in Persian, the court language of the day. Haft Paykar is a meditation on the beauty of diversity and humanity’s constant quest for perfection.

The story is a simple one — a young Sassanian prince, Bahrām Gur, discovers a locked room in a Yemeni castle where he has been sent for his upbringing.. Opening it, he finds the walls adorned with the portraits of seven beautiful princesses from distant lands; he immediately falls in love with all of them. Each princess comes from a different country and is associated with a specific color, virtue, planet and day of the week.

After a time, Bahrām’s father dies and Bahrām becomes the King of Persia. Upon assuming his throne, he sends for all of seven princesses, intending to marry each of them. He instructs his architect to build each princess her own “dome” – a residence decorated in her signature color scheme and aligned with her particular planet. The king visits a different princess each day of the week — for example, on Saturday he visits the Indian princess who lives in the Black Dome, on Sunday the Rûm princess of the Yellow Dome, and so on. Each princess regales Bahrām with a story that illustrates the virtue she must impart to the king.. From these stories, Bahrām gains wisdom and self-mastery of different aspects of his character.

While Haft Paykar is an allegory about the necessity, and enlightenmen, that comes from diversity, but 12th century style, when you don’t befriend the “other,” you marry them. The epic poem is also a love letter to the wisdom of women. Bahrām Gur would not have become a great king without the uplifting, inspiring, and moral lessons taught by the princesses. His quest for human perfection is nurtured by the wisdom in their instructive tales. By listening and learning, Bahrām Gur reaches his full potential.

Experience the beauty and the poetry of Haft Paykar at the free screening on Thursday, May 23rd at 7:30 PM at the Takoma Park Auditorium 7500 Maple Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland. Presented as a “red carpet” event, the film premiere will give guests a chance to meet the dancers and the choreographer. Everyone is encouraged to dress up for the “royal” occasion.

Learn more about this event at

Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)3 exempt tax non-profit organization.
Silk Road Dance Company ® is a Registered Trademark
The contents of this blogpost, including all text and images, are protected and may
not be used without the express written permission of Silk Road Dance Company®.
Copyright 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.


by Miriam Asmerom

On October 26 , 2013, Silk Road Dance Company will present Egypta – a dance drama inspired by ancient Egypt – at Baltimore’s Walters Museum. Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray created Egypta from a suite of six pieces she initially set on a German ensemble in 1995. Looking back however, Egypta has roots that go back to the pioneer of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, one of the first American choreographers to introduce Eastern dance traditions into the American mainstream. Gray named her dance production after the famous work Egypta by St. Denis, both as a tribute to the original seed of Egypta’s current incarnation. After all, the dance which Silk Road Dance Company will perform at the Walters Museum is an even more progressive, open-ended take on Egypta.

Though today’s choreographers obviously don’t really know what Ancient Egyptian dance looked like, movements are usually performed as stiff and awkward. Gray bucked the traditional interpretation. Her logic? “This civilization was extremely sophisticated; these people performed brain surgery. We are still unable to explain precisely how the pyramids were built, let alone replicate the endeavor. Why do we think their dances were so simplistic?” Instead, Gray constructed a more rhythmic, fluid dance based on Alan Lomax’s theory of choreometrics. Lomax links certain styles of dance to levels of development in a civilization — for instance, a society with a centralized government will have a generally different style of dance than an agrarian one. Using this theory, Gray approached the famous tomb paintings that appear on the interior of pyramid walls as snapshots of Pharaonic dance. She also incorporated elements of East African dance into the performance, noting that “white male archeologists of the Victorian era tried to detach Egypt from the rest of Africa, even denying the obviously African appearance of many of the individuals depicted in paintings and statuary. It is time to put Egypt back into Africa.”

The German ensemble of Raqs Sharqi was first to work with Gray on her depiction of Ancient Egyptian dance. In fact, they were the test subjects for the six dances that would come to comprise the core of Egypta – Egypt is the Gift of the Nile, On the Land, Pyramids, Foreign Domination. Banquet Dance, and the Death of Egypt. Though the production went through a series of hiccups, Egypta was performed in Dusseldorf, Germany in February of 1997 where it premiered to great critical acclaim. It was then taken to Memmingen in April of that same year, with Gray traveling from the US to perform a new piece, Priestess of the Snake Goddess Reneutet and the celebration of Bastet. Seattle’s Delilah joined the production, performing the roles of the Goddess Hathor and Cleopatra.

The new costumes worn in Egypta also bear notice. Instead of the gold metallic fabric, stiff collars, and huge headdresses which normally characterize Hollywood depictions of Ancient Egypt, Gray moved to more patterned textiles to forge a deeper connection with Egypta’s African roots as well as ancient Egyptian fabrics. The large headdresses were reserved for gods and goddesses since they tended to curtail movement and contributed to stiffness normally associated with Ancient Egyptian dance. With significant costuming contributions by Elizabeth Barrett Groth, a designer who was then a student at George Washington University, the new choreographies by Gray got an excting new look that drew on historical traditions. By updating the costume choice and staying away from Hollywood sterotypes, along with the innovative choreography, Gray created one of the first truly revised portraits of ancient Egyptian dance.

Gray continued to refine her work on Egypta with a performance by Silk Road Dance Company in July of 1998 at Baltimore’s International Festival. Now, Egypta returns to Baltimore, almost twenty years after its first inception. With grants from the Kennedy Center in 2003 and many past performances, the production has bloomed into a full length dance concert. As the Washington Post wrote of a 2004 performance, “The evening was a visual treat of whirling, glittery costumes, fluid movement narrative, rich exotic music, and a dance troupe that was clearly having fun.”


Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)3 exempt tax non-profit organization.
Silk Road Dance Company ® is a Registered Trademark
The contents of this blogpost, including all text and images, are protected and may
not be used without the express written permission of Silk Road Dance Company®.
Copyright 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.

by Rachel Zappala

Ahmad Maaty and the Silkies perform "Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha" at their "Bollywood Fever: concert, part of the 2013 Intersections Festival.

Ahmad Maaty and the Silkies perform “Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha” at Silk Road Dance Compay’s BOLLYWOOD FEVER concert, part of the 2013 Intersections Festival.

On March 2, 2013, the Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC) graced the stage of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre with their Bollywood Fever concert. Part of the annual Intersections Festival, this magnificent evening of sequin-clad escapism was beloved by more than just audience members; Bollywood Fever was a high-point of the performance season for many of the “Silkies,” as the members of Silk Road Dance Company are affectionately known.

Kat, one of the Silkies involved in Bollywood Fever, perfectly summarized her feelings towards the show. According to her, the fun music and lighthearted energy that Bollywood dancing creates in the rehearsal studio make for a bright spot in her week. This sentiment is certainly shared by many of her sister Silkies.

Shiraz, a new Silky who travels two hours from Delaware to get to SRDC rehearsals, loved her Bollywood Fever experience. Coming from an Arabic dance background, this was her first time ever time performing Bollywood dance. Her favorite part of the performance process has been how it has allowed her to access a different culture. “Dancing is universal,” she succinctly stated during a SRDC rehearsal. “Through different dance styles, you can appreciate other cultures and what they have to offer.”

Bollywood is also a departure from the norm for Ahmad, an Egyptian-American dancer and actor who recently earned his MFA from Pace University. He usually performs Arabic and Uzbek dance with SRDC but ever since the company’s Artistic Director, Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray introduced him to the style, he has loved the friendly, warm, and inviting energy that Bollywood dance exudes. His favorite pieces in Bollywood Fever are two seeming opposites – the Rajasthani Ghoomar dance which he loves for its tribal, grounded, high-energy movement, and the Kathak-inspired Suno Re, a piece that he describes as ethereal and appreciates for the peaceful and pleasant break that it provides from the rest of the high-energy pieces in the show.

Nilufar also loves the excitement and shared energy of Bollywood dancing. However, for her, the Bollywood Fever is much more personally significant. Originally from Uzbekistan, Nilufar takes great pride in her Central Asian origin. (After all, it was the Uzbek conqueror Babur who established India’s Moghul dynasty.) She sees Bollywood Fever not just as fun, but as a way for her to fulfill her duty to preserve and promote her Central Asian culture. Nilufar is also feels inspired and empowered while dancing Bollywood pieces. “For moments in the show, you get to experience being another person. It gives you a chance to have another life.”

Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)3 exempt tax non-profit organization.
Silk Road Dance Company ® is a Registered Trademark
The contents of this blogpost, including all text and images, are protected and may
not be used without the express written permission of Silk Road Dance Company®.
Copyright 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.

BollywoodDanceCostumeRingaRingaSilkRoadDanceCompany15thanniversarybedbugBollywood Fever Dance Concert
Saturday, March 2, 2013, at 1:30 PM
Lang Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE Washington, DC
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online:
PHOTO CREDIT: John G. Walter

Washington, DC – “Bollywood Fever” brings all the color and glitter of Indian film dances to the stage on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at 1:30pm, as part of the 2013 Intersections Festival at the Lang Theatre of the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC. The award-winning Silk Road Dance Company will pay homage to the vibrant dance sequences ever popular in Indian movies. Distinguished Indian dance artist Jayantee Paine-Ganguly and her Jayantika Dance Company will recreate elegant classical dance scenes while guest soloist Ahmad Maaty will add to the playful fun of more light-hearted choreographies. Joy of Motion’s Urban Impact Youth Company will inject fresh energy with a hip hop spin to Bollywood hits.

The term “Bollywood” refers to India’s enormous film industry that is located in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. Although Bollywood choreographies originally drew from classical Indian dance and folk forms, other dance genres such as jazz, hip hop, and belly dance have recently begun to influence the Bollywood style. Bollywood Fever celebrates these dance styles from the ebullient Hindi-language films of Mumbai, visiting some of the subjects most common in Indian film choreographies. A variety of human emotions and experiences – ranging from flirtatious and funny to poignant and touching – will be depicted throughout the program. Ranging from classical to contemporary genres, the choreographies feature music from beloved Bollywood films like Umrao Jaan, Mangal Pandey, Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Slumdog Millionaire. Highlights include a Rajasthani folk dance, a candlelight ritual, a comic number, and – of course – a wedding party! The talents of diverse artists and their sumptuous costumes makes for a dance extravaganza that promises to have the audience up and dancing in the aisles by the finale. As concert director Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray muses, “What better way to say goodbye to the winter blues, than total immersion in an afternoon of sequin-clad escapism?”

The award-winning Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC) presents women’s dances from the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, China, and the Caucasus. Founded in 1995, by Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray — adjunct professor at GWU’s Department of Theatre and Dance — the ensemble’s presentations offer a unique glimpse of the culture of little known regions. SRDC has performed abroad in Samarkand, Singapore, Qatar, and Toronto, and throughout the US and the Metro DC area. The company has also been featured at events for the Embassies of Egypt, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, and Russia, and is frequently engaged for cultural celebrations in local Turkish, Iranian, South-Asian and Arab communities. SRDC is a Joy of Motion Resident Arts Partner.

INTERSECTIONS is a unique arts festival presented by the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington DC, featuring more than 600 artists in over 100 performances over three weekends. The program includes visual art, film screenings, literary readings, dance, and musical and dramatic productions, plus 20 free café concerts and 25 special events. More information about the Intersections Festival can be found online at